"Avanti sempre avanti" - forward always forward!
Michael Amoruso, provided this impromtu theme for the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) 2014 Annual Conference while accepting NAELA's Theresa Award in recognition of his advocacy and support of individuals with disabilities. Other 2014 NAELA award winners:
- Powley Award: Marielle Hazen - in recognition of her commitment to promote a greater understanding of the rights and needs of the elderly and people with special needs and of how Elder Law attorneys advocate for those rights.
- John Regan Writing Award: Alfred Chiplin, Jr. and Bethany Lilly - honoring the author(s) of the best article published in the NAELA Journal during the past year. S2KM reviewed their article about the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on Medicare in a prior blog post.
Amoruso's conference theme seemed appropriate as NAELA quickly celebrated its accomplishments, then focused the majority of its May 21-24 Scottsdale, Arizona educational program addressing multiple strategic challenges.
Accomplishments and Resources
NAELA was the first and remains the largest U.S. professional association focused on the needs of elder and special needs law attorneys. NAELA was founded in 1986 and now consists of more than 4300 attorney members. 250 members attended NAELA's 2014 Annual Conference which also featured 22 exhibitors.
In their respective speeches, outgoing NAELA President Howard Krooks and incoming President Bradley Frigon highlighted NAELA's most recent accomplishments: historically strong financial financial surplus including a well-funded NAELA Foundation; re-vamped educational programs including new online tools and interactive learning; a public policy advocacy program more focused and linked with member practices; two NAELA sponsored congressional bills: the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act (H.R. 2123 and S. 1672) and Disabled Military Child Protection Act (H.R. 2249 and S. 1076).
NAELA's resources are extensive and provide exceptional membership value. In addition to the NAELA Foundation, they include: the NAELA Journal plus additional publications; Aspirational Professional Standards modeled on the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct; a website featuring a comprehensive library and hosting NAELA's active online community; seven practice sections; 23 committees; state chapters; multiple educational conferences and certification programs; frequent webinars; multiple annual awards, plus a large and efficient staff.
Despite its historic success, NAELA and its members face several strategic challenges.
- Although NAELA's client communities continue to grow, so does competition from non-NAELA member elder law and special needs attorneys as well as non-attorneys and websites offering legal forms. Most state bar associations have formed "elder law" sections which also compete with NAELA.
- NAELA was slow to embrace special needs as a separate strategic market. As a result, NAELA members formed the Special Needs Alliance (SNA) and the Academy of Special Needs Planners (ASNP). Many ASNP and SNA members, however, remain NAELA members.
- Additional challenges and changes: 1) the still uncertain impact of the ACA; 2) a permanent increase in the federal estate tax exemption to $5.34 million reducing the need for estate-tax related planning; 3) continuing decreases in traditional non-ACA government benefit (funding) resources; and 4) "commoditization" of several traditional elder law practice areas.
NAELA 2014 Annual Conference Educational Program
Responding to these strategic challenges, NAELA organized its 2014 Annual Conference to address two primary issues: 1) the future needs of persons with disabilities; and 2) the future of elder law. Both issues were featured is general sessions and supported with multiple break out sessions.
Two articles featured in the most recent issues of the NAELA Journal also addressed these issues:
- "The Future of Planning for Persons with Disabilities" - by Kevin Urbatsch and Michele Fuller.
- "NAELA Report and Recommendations: Preparing the Academy for a Rapidly Changing Future" - co-authored by several NAELA Board members and past Presidents.
General Sessions - Topics and Speakers
- Kruse Ethics Lecture - Ethics of Ancillary Practices - Margaret Lodis
- Alzheimer's Research Findings - William J. Burke, MD
- Future Needs of People with Disabilities - Michele Fuller and Kevin Urbatsch
- The Future of Elder Law - Thomas Begley, Jr. and Colleen Caruso
- An Outsider's (Sponsors') Perspective - Chad Fotheringham and Bridget O'Brien Swartz
- Case Law Update - Professor Rebecca Morgan, Edwin Boyer, Craig Reaves, Howard Krooks, William Browning
- Multiple Sclerosis and other Neurological Disorders - Stephen Dale and Bonnie Danowski
Breakout Sessions - Topics and Speakers
- Middle Class Estate Planning - Bernard Krooks
- Fiduciary Litigation - Sharon M. Rivenson Mark
- Medicaid Fair Hearings, Federal Court Proceedings and Appeals - William J. Browning, Shirley Berger Whitenack, Patricia E. Kefalas Dudek
- Trust Review Process - Michele Fuller
- ACA and Special Needs Planning - Kevin Urbatsch
- Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act - Catherine Anne Seal and David M. English
- Incorporating Financial Planning and Services into Elder Law Practice - Andrew Hooks and Mark Munson
- Acting as a Fiduciary - Robert Fleming and Robert Fechtman
- Special Needs Planning - Mary Schmitt Smith and Theresa Varnet
- The Future of Estate Planning - Jonathan Blattmachr
- Life Care Planning - Jerold E. Rothkoff, Esq., Beth A. Prather
- Domestic Asset Protection - Jonathan Blattmachr
With few exceptions (e.g. S2KM blog author Patrick Hindert's presentation at the NAELA 2013 Annual Conference) neither structured settlements nor personal injury settlement planning receive much attention at NAELA conferences.
The words "structured settlement" were mentioned one time during NAELA's 2014 conference presentations - by Thomas Begley Jr. in reference to changes resulting from the ACA.
Unfortunately, many NAELA members view structured settlements negatively despite familiarity with the concept and a general affinity for annuities. More specific reasons:
- Many NAELA members
- Believe defense brokers "over-structure" settlements before actual settlement planning can occur.
- View Qualified Settlement Funds (QSFs) as positive and under utilized as a result of defense broker resistance.
- Many NAELA members view structured settlement brokers generally as:
- Product and transaction focused instead of planning and client focused.
- Annuity sales persons rather than professionals interested in understanding issues and solving problems.
- Failing to adhere to professional standards such as full disclosure, product suitability and informed consent.
- For many NAELA members, the secondary market contributes to their negative view of structured settlements.
Special Needs Planning
When NAELA members discuss special needs planning, many tend to think about developmental (as opposed to personal injury) disabilities. Examples: 2014 NAELA conference presentations discussed Alzheimer's Research, Multiple Sclerosis and Autism statistics - without discussing serious tort-related injuries such as spinal chord or brain damage injuries.
Part of the reason: many first generation special needs attorneys entered this field because of their own child's developmental disability. Life insurers have contributed to this special needs dichotomy (developmental vs. personal injury) by creating completely separate departments for: 1) special needs; and 2) structured settlements.
NAELA has performed an important member service by incorporating its strategic planning into its educational programs and publications. Structured settlement and settlement planning professional associations would benefit their own members by following NAELA's example.
For S2KM summaries of other 2014 professional conferences, see the structured settlement wiki.