“It means a lot to me that the Elder law attorneys around the state have the confidence in me to select me to be in this position. It also means a lot to me in terms of what I’m going to be able to do in the new role, the changes that I will be able to make, and the influence that I will have as far as input in upcoming legislation and how things are run across the state in terms of things that affect the elderly population”, said Small.
A highly specialised field, Elder Care law tackles legal issues around health, socialisation, and personal care planning for the elderly and their families. For example, decisions must be made about how healthcare or personal finance should be handled if a family member becomes incapacitated. It also involves helping families plan for estate management to make sure wishes are honoured, and of course, administering a loved-one’s estate upon death.
Without proper legal advice decisions are made under stress or duress, which could lead to regrettable outcomes. As such, attorneys must be certified in this area, and Small is one among the 108 practicing Elder Care attorneys in the state of Florida.
The attorney, who has been practicing law for 12 years and runs her own successful law practice, views Elder Care law through her Jamaican lens, a view that seeks diversity.
“One of my platforms is to increase the diversity of the section to be inclusive of everyone and grow the section more, and make sure that all Elder Law attorneys are registered and are part of the discussion. Of course, we also want to encourage women, minorities, and law students to be part of this”.
According to Small, this section of the Bar has a strong mentorship program that gives new lawyers to the field the opportunities to shadow seasoned attorneys, whether at their offices or in court. They also have a law school liaison program that reaches out to young law students.
Interestingly, law was not Small’s first career. She comes from an executive background in banking and decided to pursue the legal field in her 30s. But, why Elder Law?
“I went to law school with the intention to do corporate international banking law. While there, we had an opportunity to do clinic where we get real life application, we sit with a judge, we attend hearings, and see real life law. The one (clinic) that fit into my schedule was family law… But I didn’t like it, so I switched to Elder Law and that’s when everything started”, Small related.
She began her own practice just a few months after graduating from law school with a focus on immigration, elder, and family law, but slowly stripped the other areas, focusing exclusively on Elder Law.
With all the nuances of this area of law, among the most important issues that Small focuses on is making sure the elderly are protected from non-caring or abusive caregivers, or even family members “seeking to rip them off”, as well as unscrupulous telephone scammers.
Another major focus is long term care planning. She seeks ways to protect the family’s assets and petition’s for government benefits to help reduce out-of-pocket costs to the families who must get institutional care for an elderly family member. As well, the attorney helps families secure guardianship in cases of incapacitation.
Small also noted that characteristic of Caribbean culture, many do not plan for their inevitable ageing future.
“It’s pervasive among people of Caribbean descent. It’s hard to have the conversation, whether it’s life insurance, or what their wishes are… One of the messages I want to get out is to plan ahead, because when you plan ahead you prevent crisis planning”.