“I got really lucky,” declares attorney Stephanie Bivens, founder of Bivens & Associates, P.L.L.C., a practice dedicated to elder law, estate planning and special needs. “When I started law school I had intended to provide my pro bono service hours working for the elderly. At the time, I had no idea that I could focus my career on elder law. I got really lucky actually; sometimes your life path finds you and sometimes, you find it along the way.”
Contrary to her statement, it seems that luck has little to do with this accomplished lawyer’s success. Not only is she a dedicated steward of the law, Bivens’ clients describe her as warm, caring and sincerely interested in their lives. Navigating the murky and oft en turbulent waters of health care, fraud, finances, and myriad other concerns facing seniors, Bivens first and foremost provides a very personal touch.
Stephanie A. Bivens, Esq. C.E.L.A. is a Phoenix native who graduated from Arizona State University, is certified as an elder law attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation and accredited by the State Bar of Arizona. Choosing an area of expertise that covers not only elder law but also, special needs, estate planning, probate and guardianship/conservatorship, Bivens’ focus has been on protecting and providing a capable voice for those who need it most.
“It wasn’t until I was out of law school and working for a very large firm in Phoenix, doing general civil litigation and insurance defense work, that I actually started considering what I would most en joy doing,” she explains. “I ended up leaving that firm and going into elder law and haven’t looked back.”
Now, with 20 years under her belt, Bivens remains one of less than 500 attorneys nationwide, certified by the National Elder Law Foundation. While two decades ago Bivens followed her heart and interests into this somewhat obscure specialty, today, with the ever-expanding growth of the senior population, this is a niche that has suddenly begun to explode. In fact, it’s only in recent years that this specialty has been added to the roster of studies in most law schools.
“I’m something of a dinosaur,” she notes with a laugh. “Really, there are very few attorneys currently practicing in this particular area, and I’m proud to be one of the most tenured in Arizona.”
What is Elder Law?
Although certainly not new, the practice of elder law does not have the same brand recognition as say, criminal, divorce or corporate law practices. Actually, many of the services provided by Bivens & Associates, P.L.L.C. cut across several more traditional areas of law, but may be approached differently with regard to age and situation of their clientele.
“A significant portion of our elder law practice involves rendering advice in such areas as long-term care insurance, Medicare, veterans benefits and Medicaid (Arizona Long Term Care System),” Bivens explains. “It oft en comes as a surprise to families that Medicare does not pay for long-term care such as non-medical home care, adult day care, assisted living, memory care or skilled nursing, beyond 100 days. Paying for such extended options can quickly exhaust savings and even put families in financial ruin.
“We can analyze a client’s options and help make the best decisions,” she continues. “Hundreds of families have turned to us when they are dealing with the endless red tape of applying for benefits to pay for care, or safeguarding loved ones so they do not end up out of money and out of options. We can help find solutions for legal problems and financial frustrations, as well as find quality support and services.”
And, while it’s always best to plan ahead for such situations, Bivens emphasizes that it’s never too late to reach out. Whether planning in advance or facing an immediate crisis, clear and compassionate legal advice is the best option.
Bivens also prepares estate plans for persons of any age, but with her senior clientele, brings real-world experience to provide practical solutions to unique issues of aging, such as incapacity. In addition, she frequently represents agents and trustees, handling medical and financial matters for aging family members.
One of the most frightening prospects for parents of special needs children is the looming question, “What happens when I’m gone?” Taking steps to ensure that loving and proper care continues can be almost overwhelming. Add on working out complicated details through frustrating government bureaucracies and one can see that it’s virtually more than an average citizen can maneuver. Indeed, anyone who actively serves as a caretaker or advocate for a loved one with special needs must face tremendous anxiety wondering, “Who will provide this same level of concern once I’m no longer here?”
The answer is as complex as the situation itself.
“There are so many things to consider in these situations,” Bivens confirms. “Depending on the loved one’s situation, age, and so on, there must be provisions so that he or she does not lose whatever government benefits they are currently receiving. Frequently, we’re draft ing trusts, so that the parent’s money may be used to supplement care but not disqualify the loved one from help that is already being received. Essentially, our goal is to provide the best of both worlds, public and private benefits.
“In other cases we’re working with personal injury attorneys who have a plaintiff who is disabled,” she continues. “Now that plaintiff is going to come into a financial settlement and if they receive those funds directly or outright, it could cause them to lose public benefits, so we prepare a special needs trust to ensure lawsuit settlements help rather than hurt.”
In what is described by Bivens as essentially a “soup to nuts” menu of legal services, she and her associates provide very specific and personalized options to suit every situation. Years of experience navigating the labyrinth of rights, benefits, and unique circumstances facing those with special needs, makes them supremely qualified to resolve virtually any problem.
“We often collaborate with other law firms,” says Bivens, “and just handle perhaps the one aspect of the case in light of the special needs because that is what we have become exceptionally well-versed in understanding and dealing with on a day-to-day basis.”
A Growing Practice
Bivens’ firm is currently home to four other very gifted and highly qualified attorneys, including Charlotte Johnson, Robin Cochran Kruger, Letty Segovia and Megan Selvey. The demands for their very special services are growing by leaps and bounds. So much so, that in addition to significantly expanding their offices, they are actively seeking additional attorneys and staff to accommodate the growing clientele.
“The population that we serve is only growing,” says Bivens. “Boomers are booming, the older population is living longer, and special needs population seems to be multiplying as well. Those individuals and families that we serve are growing by numbers that are just staggering so we decided that we are going to expand our office so that we can help more people.”
Bivens & Associates, P.L.L.C. is a tightknit group of like-minded individuals who bring to the table not only professional integrity and expertise, but also compassionate hearts. This family-like atmosphere is only enhanced by the actual relatives on staff , including Bivens’husband, John Bivens, III, as well as sister-in-law and brother- in-law Rebecca and Robert Stowe.
“What we do is really more defined by the clients we help than the exact law we practice,” says Bivens. “We practice in almost any area you can think of. We practice in administrative law, draft estate plans and special needs trusts, and we’re often in court dealing with guardianship, conservatorship, probate, trust administration, and related litigation matters. Our clients range from individuals, licensed fiduciaries, county and tribal fiduciary offices to large banks, trust companies and financial institutions.”
For such a seemingly specialized niche, Stephanie Bivens casts a wide net and a long shadow of support and comfort for thousands of Arizona families.