I'm Attorney Margot Birke. Please allow me to share my story of how I got to be an Elder Law Attorney.
"How I Got Here" by Margot Birke
On Memorial Day, 1994, my father unexpectedly (isn’t that the way it always happens) suffered a massive stroke. At the time he was living in Washington DC and I was in New York City.
As soon as I got word that he had fallen ill, I drove down to DC and into a situation that would alter my life forever. Although I was an attorney, I was entirely ignorant of the world I was about to enter. The world of hospitals, care giving, Medicare, nursing homes, and Medicaid.
Fortunately for my father and me, an attorney friend of his insisted that he execute a durable power of attorney for finances and health care while he was in the hospital. My father couldn’t write very well, but luckily he was aware of what was happening and the importance of the document he was signing. Without his ability to sign the power of attorney, I would not have been able to arrange my father’s affairs without resorting to the court system and seeking a guardianship.
In the days that followed, I arranged for my father to be transferred to a hospital in New York, terminated his lease in DC, closed his bank accounts, opened new ones, and began a journey of investigation and discovery into to the whys and wherefores of long-term care.
It was not easy to get the information I needed. I got little information from his doctors, and what information I did get, I didn’t understand. And in the 3 months my father spent in the hospital, I never spoke to a social worker!
After three months of recovery and re-habilitation, my father came home to live with me. I had no idea what this was going to mean in my life. I knew no one who could help explain things and guide me through the process. I remember visiting a nursing home and inquiring as to the monthly charges. I was told $10,000 a month – and that was in 1994!
I was not aware of the existence of elder law attorneys nor that one could assist me with the legal aspects, or geriatric care managers to help me navigate the medical maze. I had to attend to it all myself – and it wasn’t easy. So many details to attend to, options to investigate, and decisions to make.
That’s when I decided to switch my area of practice to Elder Law. I realized that I wanted to help people find their way through the maze of health care, legal documents and public benefits systems, and share the knowledge I gained.