Articles & News 2006

From the June 5, 2006 Chamber Connection insert of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette:

Law firm offers unique perspective

By Lauren McLane

Steinbacher Law Firm, 413 Washington Blvd., offers a unique perspective for those seeking legal advice. Julieanne Steinbacher, founder, is a gerontologist. She is the only elder law attorney in the area with this designation.

Steinbacher graduated from King’s College with a bachelor’s degree in Gerontology, and from Widener University with a Juris Doctorate.

After working with Greevy and Associates as a gerontologist for eight years, in Sept. 2002 Steinbacher opened her own firm, of which she is the sole proprietor.

Both of her fellow attorneys are also graduates of Widener University School of Law.

As a former social worker, Steinbacher brings a different aspect to the practice of elder care law.

“I started my own elder law firm because I have a bachelor’s degrees in gerontology and I worked in a nursing home as a social worker. It’s a very complex issue,” Steinbacher said.

Although the deadline for seniors to apply for Medicare Part D has passed, Steinbacher said the firm had received many questions about that.

“Medicare Part D is unfortunately very confusing, more so than it needed to be. For many seniors, their best source of information is their pharmacist,” she added.

The firm is specially designed by Steinbacher to provide seniors with a “one stop shop” for many of their needs associated with aging.

“That’s not to say we can do everything here. But we can put them in touch with accountants or doctors or whatever they need. As elder care lawyers, we bring every one to the table. In some cases, an accountant may tell a senior to do something in a way that an attorney thinks is wrong, and the attorney may advise the client to do some thing in a way the accountant thinks is wrong. By having everyone at the same table, we can say, ‘OK, this is why we think we should do it this way,’ and someone else can offer another opinion,” she explained.

One of the most frequently confusing issues for seniors is the difference between a Power of Attorney and a Guardianship. A Power of Attorney authorizes an agent to act on behalf of the principle. Powers of Attorney can be financial, medical or both. They can be broad or limited in scope, tailored to the needs of the individual, and they can be made to become effective at a certain time or under certain conditions, such as not becoming active until incompetence or incapacitation, which is called a Springing Power of Attorney, Steinbacher explained.

A Guardianship, by contrast, is a legal relationship in which the Orphan’s Court appoints a guardian the power to make personal decisions for another person, called the ward. Nursing homes, area agencies on aging and family members can initiate those proceedings by filing a petition in the county in which the person resides. A medical examination is conducted, and the person must be determined to be unable to meet the essential requirements for his or her health and safety. If that is the case, a guardian is appointed to make personal decisions for the individual. Unless those powers are limited by the court, the guardian has the same rights, powers and duties over the ward as parents have over minor children. Guardians are required to make annual reports to the court, she said.

The difference between the two is that a power of attorney is a low-cost, private way to decide which family member will have the legal authority to carry out an individual’s wishes if the individual is no longer able to act for him- or her-self. A guardian, on the other hand, is appointed through a lengthy and often costly court process and may not be the person an individual would have chosen for him- or her-self, she added.

With her dual focus, Steinbacher has lectured extensively across the country, including Pennsylvania and Illinois. She has been called to give expert testimony regarding Medicare and asset protection and distribution.

“We strive to give quality service. We value our clients,” she said. “It’s the balance of finding the right person for the job, and dealing with out- of-town family. We deal with trust officers, health care providers, etc. We recognize that with elderly people, a lot of children are out-of-town.”

One of the things Steinbacher Law is focusing on is the convergence of estate planning and long-term care. They used to be two separate fields, but more and more they are combining. People are living longer, but with chronic disabilities.”

Since the Terri Schiavo fiasco, more and more people are questioning, “What if I become incapacitated?” Steinbacher said.

Steinbacher said that she decided to join the Chamber of Commerce because “it’s a good organization and local business owners should support it and work together. We have an obligation to do what we can. We’re certainly stronger together than we are individually.”

“As a graduate of Leadership Lycoming, I have first-hand experience seeing what the Chamber does for the community,” she added.

Steinbacher Law is accepting new clients, and offers a free initial consultation. If a prospective client is unable to come to the law firm, the lawyers will come to them at no extra charge, she said.

“Working with the University of Illinois presenting seminars in Illinois and Pennsylvania and writing a book on elder law and trusts and estate planning gives me a unique perspective on elder law. As a gerontologist, gerontologists bring people together to the table to work together.”