Attorney at Law Magazine sat down with Farr Law Firm’s Evan Harris Farr, a Certified Elder Law Attorney, to discuss how his practice has evolved over the years and the shifts he believes need to occur in the practice of elder law moving forward.
AALM: What drew you to a career in the law?
EHF: I was originally drawn to a career in law when I was in high school. I took a Georgetown University class on ”Street Law” and became so interested that I founded the Law Club in high school.
AALM: As an attorney, you have many career options. What drew you to the practice of elder law?
EHF: During my first 14 years of practice, I focused on estate planning and general practice. During the last five years, estate planning clients would ask questions that had to do with elder law such as aging parents and nursing homes. Questions of this sort certainly deserved to be answered, but I couldn’t answer them at the time and felt that my inability to do so was a disservice to my clients.
I decided to drop my general practice in order to free up enough room in my brain to focus on elder law. I changed my focus to elder law, estate planning, and special needs planning, eventually becoming one of the top experts in the country in Medicaid asset protection, Medicaid asset protection trusts, and elder law topics in general, and have since been a four-time best-selling author, speaker, and teacher for tens of thousands of other attorneys on these topics.
AALM: Tell us a little about your philosophy when it comes to your practice. Do you have a personal motto?
EHF: My personal motto is meaningful to me in both my practice and my personal life. It is “Do well by doing good.”
AALM: How is your practice today different from how you envisioned it in law school?
EHF: When I attended law school, I envisioned a general practice including estate planning, an area I thoroughly enjoyed studying. I eventually realized the importance of elder law to my clients and decided to drop general practice in order to focus on elder Law. In my opinion, practicing estate planning without practicing elder law is borderline malpractice.
The revocable living trust is a very useful and popular estate planning tool that is used as the central estate planning document by millions of Americans. Most estate planning attorneys offer a revocable living trust as their standard estate planning instrument. The primary benefit of the revocable living trust is that assets are protected from the expenses and complexities of probate. However, what most Americans and many estate planning attorneys don’t realize, or don’t consider, is that assets in a revocable living trust are NOT protected from lawsuits or from the catastrophic expenses associated with nursing home long-term care.
Realizing that the greatest estate plan in the world is completely useless if someone winds up broke paying for nursing home care is what drove me into elder law. To assist all of my clients properly, I felt that I had to include elder law as a major part of my practice, to incorporate Medicaid asset protection to help these people afford long-term care without significantly impacting the assets they spent their entire life to earn.
AALM: What compelled you to start your own practice? How would you describe it’s culture?
EHF: In 1991, I started my own practice after four years of working for another firm. I did so because I wanted to be in control of my own destiny. As for the culture of the firm, I asked one my team members to assist me, she replied that “we’re like a family.” I couldn’t agree more!
AALM: Tell us about a single case that has significantly impacted you personally or professionally?
EHF: I recall the first time I had a client in their 40s who needed nursing home care due to severe multiple sclerosis. Since then, we have had over half a dozen clients in their 40s or 50s in need of nursing home long-term care. It made me realize how much elder law applies not just to elders, but to people of all ages.
AALM: As technology changes the practice of law, how are you adapting?
EHF: At the Farr Law Firm, we are highly technological. We have used computers since the first day of practice and couldn’t imagine practicing without them. We believe that better technology equates to better efficiency, so we stay on top with new technology.
In fact, I developed the Living Trust Plus Asset Protection Trust, a trust that is designed to protect clients’ assets from the expenses and complexities of probate PLUS lawsuits PLUS nursing home expenses. The software can be installed to work with Hot Docs, a popular document automation software program used by attorneys. I created templates for the Living Trust Plus that work seamlessly with Hot Docs and Microsoft Word and Corel WordPerfect, and the LTP program is being used by dozens of attorneys across the country.
AALM: Tell us about your community involvement.
EHF: The Farr Law Firm sponsors the Lorton Community Action Center, which provides food, clothing, emergency financial assistance, and outreach programs to southeastern Fairfax County. We also support the Shepherd Center, a nonprofit that helps older adults continue to live independently in their own homes. We support the Alzheimer’s Association, as well, and we have our own nonprofit, Reiki Outreach Services for Elders (ROSE).
AALM: Tell us about an event that changed your perspective on the practice of law.
EHF: An event that changed my perspective on the practice of law was the Terry Schiavo case. It really emphasized to me the importance of helping clients to plan in advance, because you never know what could happen. Terri Schiavo did not anticipate slipping into a coma and then having her husband and parents fight over her medical care and ultimate wishes for the next 15 years while she lay brain-dead and on a feeding tube. She did not anticipate a legal back-and-forth between her husband and her parents, that ended up in the Supreme Court, with even the president and the pope involved. I am sure she would have never wanted that for her family, during such a difficult time for everyone.
When she first landed in the hospital, she was only 26, proving you never know when something unexpected can happen and you’re never too young to detail your life wishes. Less than a third of the population has completed incapacity planning documents. This often leads to wishes not being met, court involvement and supervision, and more stress and grief for loved ones. I’m grateful to be able to give clients the peace of mind that goes along with being prepared and making their wishes known in their planning documents.
AALM: Tell us about your ambitions for your career.
EHF: I would like to see more attorneys across the country offer Living Trust Plus and the Long-term Care Directive. Many estate planning attorneys just offer Revocable Living Trusts, which are useless should a client need nursing home care in the future. With 70% of the American population needing long-term care after the age of 65, and with the national average cost of long-term care exceeding $10,000 per month, the majority of our clients and their families face the harsh reality of going broke when faced with a need for nursing home care. Proper estate planning for clients over age 65 demands a discussion of Medicaid asset protection trusts.
AALM: What are you most proud of professionally and personally?
EHF: I am most proud of the creation of the Living Trust Plus Asset Protection Trust and all of the years of research that went into it, my certification in Elder Law by the National Elder Law Foundation, my four best-selling books, my numerous legal treatises, my regular legal columns for four different magazines, and my numerous professional awards.
AALM: Tell us about your life outside the law.
EHF: I am a pretty relaxed person. I enjoy spending time with my amazing wife, Jeannie, at our home on the Potomac River, watching movies and television with family and friends, floating in our pool during summer or in the ocean at our second home on the Westernmost coast of Florida, and cuddling with our menagerie of adorable and loving cats.
AALM: At the end of the day, what makes you happiest professionally and personally?
EHF: I would say helping people through difficult times and providing our clients and their families with peace of mind. Our slogan, “Protecting Seniors and their Families by Preserving Dignity, Quality of Life, and Financial Security” describes what makes me happiest professionally in a nutshell.