by Jim Franco, Colonie Spotlight

Louis W. Pierro is the Founder and Principal of Pierro, Connor & Strauss, LLC, a law firm with offices in the Latham and New York City with additional locations in Hudson, Lake Placid, Long Island, Florida, New Jersey and Massachusetts. His Firm serves clients in the areas of estate and trust planning, estate and trust administration and litigation, business and tax planning, elder law and special needs planning. Pierro is also the founder of ElderCounsel, a national organization of elder law and special needs attorneys, where he now serves as a consultant, and is the Founder of ApolloCare, a business that integrates home care coordination with technology to provide seniors opportunities to live independently in their home. In 2022, 2018 and 2014, Pierro was named Best Lawyers “Lawyer of the Year” for Elder Law in the Capital Region, among many other awards and distinctions. He and his wife Paula live in Loudonville and are the proud parents of three adult children.

Q: What led you to specialize in elder law and what keeps you interested in the field?

A: My parents. When I became a lawyer, my father approached me and said ‘son, we built the house we live in, paid off the mortgage, and we want to preserve it and keep it in the family — what can we do?’ That led me to research, and attendance at a program sponsored by the New York State Bar Association where I met the leaders in the field, and was inspired by their passion for protecting the elderly and disabled, our most vulnerable citizens. That was 1988, and since that time the problems facing seniors have become more complex, more difficult and more challenging, so the need for elder law services gets nothing but greater. Our firm has been built to address these problems head on; and being able to help families put the pieces together and find solutions keeps our attorneys and staff motivated with the knowledge they are making a difference.

Q: People are living more healthy lifestyles and are living longer, how has this impacted your practice?

A: Life expectancies have increased tremendously over the past 40 years, so that when people retire at age 65, they have to plan to live another 20 to 30 years. As we age into our 80s and 90s, the need for assistance with basic tasks called activities of daily living becomes a reality because the cost of services such as nursing homes and home health care are approaching $200,000 per year. Very few people are prepared for that, and we have taken on the job of educating our clients on the risks of aging and preparing for all of the eventualities that may come into their lives that put their financial well-being at risk. Private insurance and government programs are complex, costly and require careful planning, and we have dedicated a significant amount of our staff and resources to solving these problems.

Q: What is the most common question you get from a new client? And what is your answer?

A: Our clients who are concerned about aging and disability fall into two categories — crisis and planning. For those who are hospitalized, already in need of care and wanting to live independently at home or already in a nursing home, the critical questions are: how do we find care, and how do we pay for it? For those with more time, who are planning in advance, there are far more options, and the questions become: how do I secure my own retirement, plan for my family and protect my assets? The answer involves several components, including a comprehensive estate plan, appointing the right people to make decisions if you can no longer make them for yourself, buying insurance and utilizing your own coverages to maximize their benefits, and planning to access government benefits, such as Medicaid, if the need arises. Medicare is a false promise when it comes to long-term care, it does not cover that $200,000 per year expense, and many people are shocked when they face that cost, and the lack of available programs and resources. Medicaid is supposed to be the payor of last resort, but for middle class clients it has become a lifeline. Navigating the Medicaid system and advocating for our clients within it is our strength.

Q: Is there any universal advice you can give anyone who is more than 50 years old?

A: That is an interesting question to someone who passed that milestone 14 years ago, and who has a law partner who passed it 36 years ago. The answer I would give is not a legal one but it does impact one’s ability to plan, and that is to build your network early, whether it be family or friends, and to communicate with the people in that network and make them part of your plan. Having the right decision makers in place as your trustee, executor, healthcare agent and power of attorney is critical. The other elements of planning require a careful assessment of your available resources, both financial and nonfinancial, and the implementation of a plan which puts in place a trust, will, power of attorney, health care proxy and other legal documents, along with a financial and tax plan. Assembling a team of professional advisers to work with you and your family, and getting everyone on the same page, is the best insurance that your plan will work.

Q: Is there an attorney — real or fiction, alive or dead — who you admire most and why?

A: When I was in law school, I wanted to be a trial lawyer, and to be in front of a jury every day like Perry Mason. My first job was in a litigation firm, and I learned that most of the work of a trial lawyer is done outside of court, and involves reams of paper, sitting around the courthouse and settlements. When I turned to elder law and attended programs through the New York State Bar Association, I met a gentleman who embodied the qualities that define the practice of law ­— intellectual vigor, empathy, compassion, and zeal for the causes of your clients. I became friends with that attorney, and over the years continued to admire his work, and commitment to the practice of law. Good fortune brought our paths together, and four years ago Peter Strauss became my partner. In 2019, Peter won the New York State Bar Association attorney professionalism award, given to one lawyer each year in the entire state of New York, so it is clear that I’m not the only one who feels as I do. Peter‘s passion for the law brings him to work every day at the age of 86, and he continues to teach at New York Law School, and to mentor young attorneys who want to enter the profession in elder law. With that as my motivation, the possibilities are endless.

 If you would like to see someone featured in Five Questions contact Jim Franco at 518-878-1000 or francoj@spotlightnews.com