David Watt is a 49-year-old estate planning and elder law attorney who lives in the Villages of Urbana. He runs his own Urbana practice, the Law Offices of David L. Watt. Earlier this year, Watt launched a second business — but not because he was unhappy with his career. Watt had a personal reason for creating this business, a crisis with his Dad that started with a phone call from the police about five years ago.
“My dad is living in Baltimore. … I get a call from the police, and they say your dad has called us in the last four weeks saying that someone has broken into his house,” Watt recalled. “That is a stunning thing to hear, and then we find out he is having hallucinations. … My father was diagnosed with dementia, the early stage of Alzheimer’s.”
Watt said he and his sister were caught off guard dealing with issues they had not talked about or formed a plan for how to deal with ahead of time. The questions included: What are we going to do with Dad? What are his finances? How are we going to transition him from his house? Who is his doctor?
“It was a beastly nightmare for us because we did not know where to turn — and [we] were dealing with [his] difficult health issue. It was an enormous challenge for us,” he said. “The biggest concern I have about this is that nobody does anything about it until there is an emergency. … We ignore it until it is a crisis. That is exactly what happened with us. We hadn’t made any plans with my dad. He was relatively young — he was 73. We were flatfooted.”
Out of the circumstances with his dad and working with his estate-planning clients, Watt said he realized a large number of his peers were faced with the same issues — writing wills for their parents and grocery shopping for them, as well as paying their bills, handling medical issues, filling prescriptions and more.
“I am seeing there is this huge need for what is called elder-life management,” Watt said.
Out of a desire to provide assistance for the elderly and for the children of aging parents, Watt launched Elder Transitions, LLC in January. Elder Transitions provides services including a geriatrics social worker, a certified financial planner to look at the big picture of the assets, and an elder-law attorney to look at their estate planning and to look at protection assets using trusts or retitling of assets, etc.
“[We] provide services based on the needs of the elderly person and the family focused on both short-term and long-term,” he said. “Short-term being what are the immediate needs — what kind of health needs, what kind of social needs, what kind of activities of daily living do mom or dad need? And in the long-term we are trying to help them plan to utilized their assets as efficiently as possible and protecting as much of those assets so they have something to leave as a legacy.”
Watt has done a number of local lectures and said feedback from the community reveals many people are concerned with protecting the elderly against financial abuse. For example, at his lectures he has had numerous people recount situations such as their aging mother signing over the deed of her house to a distant relative without meaning to.
“That means [we want to protect against] both situations when seniors are either making mistakes in terms of their finances or they are being taken advantage of by others, including family members,” Watt said.
Elder Transitions offers a monthly check writing service that acts as a fraud detector.
“If we see something unusual in your mom or dad’s account, we alert you,” Watt said. “We collect the bills, we write the checks, and then we provide a report to either the elderly person [or] perhaps the family member who has been appointed a power of attorney. We monitor that monthly checking account.”
Gail Wilder, a resident of Timonium, Md., said her mother is an example of how Watt’s financial protection works. Wilder signed her mother Barbara Wilder up for Elder Transitions after hearing Watt give a presentation, asking him to help protect her mother’s assets. Barbara, 84, lives in Pikesville, Md., and has severe arthritis.
Barbara said Watt helped her rewrite her will. In addition, Watt recommended that Barbara re-title the deed to her house to ensure a seamless transition of her most important asset in the event she needed long-term care. Recently, Watt helped protect her from financial overcharges on her bills.
“I have been paying a water bill for 60 years [that] is $23 to $30,” Barbara said. “I got a water bill for $760-some dollars. They think just because you are old, you are stupid. I might be old, but I am not stupid!”
Barbara said Watt made the appropriate calls and straightened out the situation
“[Watt] is a pleasure to talk to,” Barbara said. “He is terrific.”
Elder Transitions does not provide in-home care but does help coordinate any in-home care needs and services for the family.
“You will find very few people in the country providing the services we are providing,” Watt said. He added that, while there are other companies geared toward helping seniors, they are often franchises that offer in-home care or elder-law attorneys — but none that offer social/health planning, financial planning and elder legal services in one company.
Watt is giving a lecture on Elder Transitions and the issues surrounding elder care on July 28 at the Urbana District Library. The lecture will be held at 10 a.m. For more information, visit www.eldertransitionsllc.com or call 240.463.6410.