Attorney at Law Magazine sat down with Shannon Miller of the Miller Elder Law Firm. With a heart dedicated to filling a vital void, Miller stands as a compassionate advocate and a privileged participant in the journey of elder law.
AALM: Can you share what initially drew you to this particular field and inspired your passion for protecting seniors and their families?
SM: I would say the most profound impact was watching my grandfather, a brilliant man, suffer and decline, and eventually suffer a terrible death – not at all the way he wanted. This inspired me greatly – he had a huge impact on me growing up.
I also had a very impactful case as a young lawyer. Mrs. M was a beautiful 92-year-old woman who sat in my office and explained through tears and much hand wringing that at her husband’s funeral, her pastor had approached and offered to help Mrs. M manage her finances. Her husband had been the financial manager. She added her pastor as a joint owner to her only bank account, which contained $15,000. The pastor then proceeded to empty the entire account, moving the assets into an account he had with his wife. This was unconscionable to me. Unfortunately, the law in Florida at that time provided that joint account owners could withdraw all the funds. We litigated the matter and were able to recover a little more than half the assets; however, the stress of the litigation had taken its toll. Mrs. M died two months after we resolved this case. This was one of the events that sparked the drive to change the exploitation laws in Florida, which are now the strongest in the country.
AALM: What has been the most challenging case you have worked on, and how did you approach it?
SM: Michael McCadden came to us as a decorated Korean War veteran. He had “signed some papers” and his daughter had taken all of his savings. It was a quandary to us how the daughter had been able to take over all his assets which appeared to be in a trust in his name. What we uncovered was that “the trust” had one trustee/gatekeeper (the daughter) and one beneficiary (the daughter!). We were able to recover much of Mr. McCadden’s assets, but it took a criminal prosecution, having the court enforce a settlement agreement, and litigation that lasted a year and a half.
Mr. McCadden declined greatly during the lawsuit, due to his congestive heart failure. His daughter left him penniless. We used VA Aide and Attendance to get him a small place to live, then we did his laundry, took him groceries, and visited him at the VA during the holidays, or later as he approached death. Mr. McCadden loved Dove ice cream bars, and we would always bring him this simple treasure when we would come to check on him.
Mr. McCadden asked me to tell his story. He was a decorated War Hero, who deserved a better result. His story helped move us to the Exploitation Injunction Statute, one of the most forward thinking tools to stop exploitation. It became the law in 2017, shortly after Mr. McCadden’s death.
AALM: Tell us about any mentors you’ve worked with through your career and the best advice they shared with you.
SM: My first and most impactful mentors came while I was in clinic, during law school. “Be an exceptional advocate for someone who has never experienced anything exceptional.” That drives me.
AALM: Your commitment to advocating for seniors is evident in your involvement in organizations like the Academy of Florida Elder Law Attorneys. How do these affiliations contribute to your professional growth and the impact you can make in your field?
SM: AFELA and the Elder Law Section of the Florida Bar, as well as the Life Care Planning Law Firm Association are the brain trusts I rely so heavily on, every day. The camaraderie and congeniality among elder law attorneys has the feel of a family – so much willingness to help each other, give knowledge freely, and applaud success. I would be lost without these colleagues.
AALM: How do you balance the legal complexities of your work with the emotional and personal aspects that often come with dealing with seniors and their families?
SM: I am an avid yoga practitioner and mindfulness is my mantra. I teach hot yoga and yin yoga, and I volunteer with young beautiful mothers at a local drug treatment center, teaching them mindfulness, yoga, and hanging out with their amazing babies. It fills my soul.
AALM: How is your career different today than you envisioned while attending law school?
SM: I had no idea how much it would become the love of my life – I look forward to time at work, my colleagues and my firm co-workers. We are a family.
AALM: Tell us about a case that changed the way you practice law.
SM: I had a five-day jury trial in a case I thought I couldn’t lose, that we did lose. That prompted my true dedication to mediation and settlement, no matter how strong my case is.
AALM: Looking ahead, what goals or aspirations do you have for your career in elder law? Are there specific projects or initiatives you’re excited about tackling in the future?
SM: I am so excited about life care planning – incorporating an elder care coordinator into our practice to help our clients age gracefully, avoid exploitation, not go bankrupt paying for care, and finding the best healthcare at the best price. Life care planning is the future of elder law in helping our clients through the process of illness and death.
AALM: Tell us a little about your life outside the office.
SM: I love to travel, and attend yoga retreats, as well as nature destinations around the world. I love animals, including my 2 dogs, 2 cats and one South African Highland Leopard Tortoise. I love scuba diving and fly fishing with my dad. I am also enjoying my daughters’ journeys through med school and law school – it is a very exciting time in life.
AALM: Anything else to add?
SM: Elder Law attorneys fill a void for people that has been empty for a long time. I feel very privileged to be part of that journey.