If he were alive today, Thomas Begley Sr. would probably not recognize Begley Law Group, the firm he founded way back during the Great Depression. Under the guidance of his son, Thomas Begley Jr., the practice has evolved from its original focus to become a pioneer in the fields of elder and special needs law, earning a stellar reputation for standing by its clients and resolving complex issues.
Begley has no doubt that his father would be beaming with pride if he could see what has become of the business.
“I think he would be surprised and pleased,” Begley says. “When he started there was no such thing as elder law or a special needs trust. He represented banks and was in politics. It has changed drastically but I think it’s been a good change and I think he would be proud.”
Now joined by partners Ethan Ordog and Joellen Meckley, Begley continues to provide a wide range of services, often to people facing emotional problems.
Life plans and special needs trusts
Begley has two important reasons for focusing a significant part of his practice on special needs law. “I have a special needs daughter and a special needs grandson and I wrote a law book on special needs planning, so it’s a passion of mine,” he explains.
Begley Law Group encourages parents to prepare a life plan in order to ensure care for the child after they are gone. This entails finding out if family members, perhaps other children, would be willing to act as guardians for the special needs individual. It also involves detailing all of the unique needs of the individual, from medical and personal care requirements to their social preferences and possibilities for employment.
Budgeting is also a critical step and allows clients to determine how much they are spending on the child’s care and what will be needed financially in the future. They may decide to leave a larger portion of their estate to the special needs child than other children, and a special needs trust is an effective tool in protecting the individual’s inheritance and assets while allowing them to remain eligible for public benefits.
A guardianship is a protective arrangement through the court system on behalf of individuals who are unable to take care of themselves or lack the capacity to make life decisions. Parents of special needs children often assume they will always be entitled to make decisions for the child, but in the eyes of the law they must file for a guardianship when the child turns 18. Guardianships can also be useful for elderly loved ones who have diminished capacity.
“The importance of families addressing the need to establish some form of a protective arrangement is crucial,” Ordog says. “Oftentimes families are simply unaware of the need to have the authority to advocate for a loved one, and conflict will arise with their medical, legal and financial affairs.”
One of the key facets of elder law is preparing for the possibility of expensive long-term care. At a young age, perhaps in their 50s, people may shop for long-term care insurance, when the premiums are still affordable. But once they reach a certain age that option is no longer viable. In their early 70s, or earlier if they are faced with a chronic diagnosis, they should meet with an elder law attorney to discuss care options and how to pay for them.
One possibility is Medicaid, and Begley Law can be of great benefit to those navigating the complexities of the application process. Meckley stresses the importance of the five-year look-back period, in which a person’s financial records for the prior five years are scrutinized to determine if any cash gifts were given in that time period.
“If they find that you’ve given money away in the last five years, it will delay the start date for your Medicaid benefits,” she says. “People may find themselves in a situation where they don’t have any money left and they can’t afford their nursing home bill, and they could face long delay before Medicaid starts paying. You need to be very careful when trying to engage in any sort of asset protection planning.”
Begley Law can also help with estate planning, and Meckley highlights three essential documents that every individual should have. One is obviously a will to determine who inherits that person’s assets. An advanced health care directive appoints a decision-maker to speak to doctors on a person’s behalf in case of a medical emergency, and a durable power of attorney allows the appointee to make financial decisions for someone who is in crisis or has become incapacitated.
“We spend extensive time discussing the importance of each document with our clients and explaining how it would work in their lives, helping them choose the appropriate people to perform these roles,” Meckley says.
Yet another area of expertise at Begley Law is estate administration and helping executors meet the challenging demands that arise after a loved one’s passing. The attorneys are able to keep everyone on the same page during the process, helping executors meet their obligations to the estate, maintaining open communication with beneficiaries and avoiding any unnecessary litigation.
“People are dealing with a lot of tough issues right now and the loss of a loved one, especially if it’s someone who is younger or has passed away as a result of COVID, is really hitting a lot of families hard,” Ordog says. “From the estate administration standpoint, the importance of following the proper steps and protocols is even more important now.”
No matter which of these areas a client needs assistance with, they are sure to receive top-notch service from a law firm that has been a fixture in the community for nearly 90 years.
“Families turn to us because these issues are not easy,” Ordog says. “It takes empathetic and diligent individuals who are able to connect with their clients to address them. I think that’s what has made the firm so successful over the years in working with these populations.”
Begley Law Group
509 S. Lenola Road, Building 7 | Moorestown