Each day 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 years old, a statistic that Victor Medina, an attorney who practices elder law, knows well. He has built a career around that branch of the law to help his clients prepare for the next phase of their lives.
“We try to do is help keep legal ducks in a row, so that no matter what life deals you along the way, you have a plan to react to it,” he says in an interview from his office at 230 West Delaware Avenue in Pennington. “So if it just means that sometime you’re going to die and you want to have an orderly, efficient way of leaving stuff for the next generation, that’s what we handle. If life is going to deal you an unanticipated stay in an assisted living facility, our job is to help make sure you don’t die broke in a nursing home. And that’s what we do.”
Medina speaks Monday, February 4, at 5 p.m. at Acorn Glen, an assisted living facility on Mount Lucas Road in Princeton. His topic matches the title of his third and most recent book, “Make it Last: Protecting Your Family From the Costs of Aging.” Free copies of the book will be given to all who attend. For more information visit Medina’s website, www.jerseyestateplanning.com.
Medina will discuss planning for potentially needing long-term care later in life and, on the flip side, not planning for that possibility. “Preventative planning is always more powerful than crisis planning,” he says. “And so what you’re able to achieve in terms of flexibility, asset protection, guiding the course of your own care is always stronger if you get ahead of the problem, traditionally, with five years or more to plan before you need the long-term care.”
“Everyone wants to, sort of, age gracefully in their own home,” he says. “But we can’t predict that. And so if we’re going to be dealt a hand that says that this is what’s going to be going on, how do we best set things up so that we keep as many options as possible?”
A 2016 report by the U.S. Census Bureau says that “Older people were far more likely to live alone and in group quarters with age.” More long-term projections show that adults 65 and older will outnumber children under 18 for the first time ever in U.S. history starting in 2035, 78 million to 76.7 million, according to the Census Bureau.
Medina says people cannot control “whether or not they will be somebody who needs long-term care. And so, they’re going to have to make a decision about whether they’re going to plan for it or they’re not going to plan for it,” he says.
He says one out of every four men and one out of every two women will need long-term care at some point in their lives. By long-term care, he says there are three levels: living in a nursing home or in an assisted living facility or having home-based care. With each, there are cost differences involved. As his website notes, nursing home costs are $7,000 per month or more, $84,000 a year.
Medina’s third book is part of a series of “Make it Last” books he has written about planning for retirement years. Baby boomers, he says, will “face the largest burden of long-term care costs.”
“So I found it really necessary to start to outline for them what kind of steps they can be taking in order to make sure that a long-term event doesn’t devastate them or their family,” he says. “We try to end with some of the happy ending stuff that people can do to help address this planning and how to measure what that’s going to look like, because I think well-informed is well-guided.”
Yet he says he feels the book is just as useful to the children of aging parents “to make sure that they’re charting the course of their parents’ care as great stewards.”
Medina, 43, grew up in Trumbull, Connecticut. His parents worked in education: his father was a history professor and his mother a school psychologist. As it turned out, his mother introduced Medina to a co-worker of hers, who later turned into her daughter-in-law.
“And so I tell my mom, ‘You can’t complain about her, you chose her,’” Medina says. He and his wife, Jennifer, a school psychologist, are the parents of three sons.
Medina, an undergraduate alumnus of Tufts, become the first lawyer in the family after graduating from Northeastern University School of Law. “For me, the law came with it an opportunity to grant general members of the public, people who weren’t educated in the law, access to a system—keys to be able to manage their life,” he says. “I stand between my client and them having good outcomes, them having enough money to get through the rest of their days.”
Medina does estate planning and is also a certified financial planner. “In the estate planning/elder law world, we’re building castles to protect things,” Medina says. “And in the financial world, I’m helping them make sure that what we put in the castle is worth protecting.”
Medina says he got into estate planning after being asked to help after a family member had died. “It gave me an opportunity to see the way estate planning is traditionally done and the way that it could be done to help serve clients,” he says. “And that’s sort of what got me in my start in that area.”
The past president of the American Association of Trust, Estate, and Elder Law Attorneys, Medina says he has seen a large growth in his client base. He estimates that his practice in Pennington is serving 200 to 250 families a year.
“And so that was not the case five years ago,” he says. “Five years ago, we might have seen a third of that.” Federal population data show a graying of America. A 2016 report by the U.S. Census Bureau said there were an estimated 49.2 million Americans 65 years old and older. Of that total, 27.45 million were woman and 21.76 million were men. In New Jersey, 15.4 percent of the state’s population fit that age demographic.
Five years from now people collectively will be older yet. And some of them, Medina hopes, will also be wiser.