John Burns: A Holistic Approach to Elder Law

John Burns
2024 Feature Nominations

Like traditional elder law firms, John Burns helps families protect elderly and disabled loved ones’ assets from the high cost of long-term care. But he does not stop there. His approach helps families respond to the twists and turns of the long-term care journey, including care coordination, patient advocacy, insurance issues and more. It is an approach built on a relationship of trust and confidence between the family and his firm.

“We can identify the appropriate level of care, and take the steps needed to secure it” sums up Burns’ approach to elder law and estate planning. His holistic approach to the problems of aging takes in much more than merely creating a will or setting up an estate. His clients benefit from his decades of taxation and elder law experience coupled with a true concern for their health, social, and emotional needs.


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Though still in his early-50s, John Burns has developed an appreciation for the types of problems faced by the elderly today. He knows they have need for estate planning and asset protection advice. But he also knows from day to day contact with his clients how they often face loneliness, isolation, ill health, and the general feeling that life has passed them by.

He even employs a social worker. “I hired Mitzi Bragwell shortly after setting up my elder care law practice here in Decatur,” says Burns. “She is our Elder Care Coordinator, and she meets with clients and their families, performs assessments, and is able to advise clients on housing options and availability of all types of social services and benefits for the elderly and disabled.” In addition, he employs a benefits specialist to assist with Medicaid and VA benefits.

It was not always this way for Burns. Before becoming a sole practitioner in elder care law, he spent much of his career at two of Tennessee’s largest firms. Nearly a decade and a half as a partner in the tax sections at Baker Donelson and later at Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis laid the foundation for his current practice.


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“I thoroughly enjoyed working at those firms,” he mused. “I had exposure to matters and clients that I would not have had, otherwise. We were fortunate to deal with cases and transactions that required multiple expertise to solve the problems our clients faced. As I look back on it, there were long hours and many demands, but I would not trade it.”

But several years ago, Burns said, he could feel the walls closing in on him. “It doesn’t matter how big the firm is or what you are doing, you’re still sitting in a glass box downtown.” Drawing on some personal experiences led to his decision to strike out on his own, while switching his legal focus to elder care law.

“My father-in-law had had a catastrophic accident and in short order required long-term care. Like so many other families, we scrambled to locate a suitable skilled nursing facility and experienced the frustrations of navigating the long-term care maze. No sooner had we settled that issue than my father’s chronic health issues rendered him unable to live by himself. Again, my wife and I were asking ourselves ‘what do we do now to address his care?’” Fortunately, Burns found his father an assisted living center where his father was able to live comfortably until his death in 2015.

That was the catalyst for his decision to go into elder care law. “My wife and I realized our experience was shared by many other families. I decided that elder law gave me a way that I could practice law while really being of service to others.”


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My wife and I realized our experience was shared by many other families. I decided that elder law gave me a way that I could practice law while really being of service to others.”

Retiring one afternoon to a favorite Nashville coffee shop, Burns plotted his next moves. “I developed my exit strategy on one napkin and my new business strategy on another one,” he joked.

Three months later he made his move, starting his own firm in Franklin, Tennessee, where he still maintains an office. His experience in taxation, estate planning and even dealing with government bureaucracies would be invaluable to his new practice, but more than anything he says, “decades of experience working with clients who are facing some of the most difficult challenges of their lives has been the best preparation for what I now do.”

The decision to move to Decatur was an easy one. “My wife is Rebecca Poole Burns, a Decatur native with strong roots in the community. Several years ago, we had the opportunity to acquire a portion of what had been her great grandfather’s farm, where we plan to build.”

In 2017, Rebecca noticed that a historic two-story building near downtown Decatur had come onto the market. “It was a building that both of us had always admired,” says Burns. Their offer on the property was accepted, and in the late summer of 2017 Burns and his wife became the owners of 601 Johnston Street in Decatur Shortly thereafter Burns expanded his practice to north Alabama, and John Burns Estate & Elder Care Law, PLLC, now occupies a portion of the building. Having offices in both Decatur and Franklin enable Burns to serve clients in northern Alabama and in middle Tennessee.

Owned previously by a Decatur architect, the building has been extensively remodeled, but Burns has spent much of the past year doing further updates and remodeling. “It’s a labor of love, and I am so pleased with how it has turned out.”

Asked to relate a case for which he is especially proud, Burns leans back in this chair and clasps his hands behind his back. “We’ve been able to help a lot of folks, and for that I am grateful. Knowing that we have been able to provide peace of mind to our clients – whether that be in the form of a care plan, an asset protection strategy, securing needed benefits, or ensuring the long-term care for our elderly and disabled clients has been a source of tremendous satisfaction and what makes this all worthwhile.”

Michael Kelley

Michael "Mike" Kelley is the publisher of Attorney at Law Magazine Northern Alabama. Mike regularly interviews attorneys and professionals for Attorney at Law Magazine feature stories. He is a dedicated writer and publishing professional.

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