Jeanne M. Hepler
Collins & Hepler, PLC
JD Tulane University School of Law
What services within elder law are you best known for?
Providing Medicaid planning to underserved rural areas
Please describe a signature case or representation.
A client once told me that he had come to see me because his father had died in a nursing home and had lost all of his life savings to nursing home costs. This client said it had truly pained his father, who had apologized to him for having spent his entire inheritance. The client told me he did not want that to happen to him and his own children. I helped him move assets into an irrevocable trust for the benefit of his heirs. People in rural areas also greatly value their land, often the farm, homestead, or hunting land that has been in their family for generations, and that land can be at risk when nursing home care is needed. A client recently came to me to protect land that had been in her family since the 1700’s. It is truly satisfying to help these clients to preserve their legacy and their treasured family lands.
What do you find most satisfying about law practice?
What I find most satisfying about my practice is getting to know people from all walks of life and helping them when they need it. It is a privilege to be able to step into the lives of others for a brief window of time and guide them through a complicated situation. Their relief and gratitude brings me much personal satisfaction. It is also a joy to get to know people that I might not otherwise meet, and to feel more connected to the community as a result.
Describe your approach to advising clients.
I feel that my role is to help clients identify their goals, then present them with options for achieving those goals, particularly with estate planning. I try to point out things that they might not have been aware of before coming to see me, such as the importance of powers of attorney, or the idea of asset protection. I try to collect detailed information about each situation, such as assets, health concerns, and family dynamics, then discuss possible strategies in enough detail for the client to make an informed decision about the best course of action for themselves and their families.
What is the best career advice you’ve received?
A wise lawyer told me many years ago that it was important to control the client’s expectations. Although he was talking about not letting client expectations exceed the realistic outcome, I feel this advice holds true on many different levels. I find that my clients appreciate knowing what to expect, both in terms of procedure and possible outcomes, and I try to err on the side of providing more information in that regard, while striving to avoid the development of false expectations that can lead to disappointment.
What developments or changes in elder law do you expect to see in the coming year?
The law is constantly changing and evolving, and any changes in the tax laws can affect our clients, such as the proposed elimination of the step-up in tax basis. I also think that the pandemic has caused a shift to more virtual services, and I hope that we will see legislation allowing remote notarization to be accepted for recorded documents such as deeds and powers of attorney.