Six Steps to Improve Your LinkedIn Profile

Six Steps to Improve Your LinkedIn Profile

LinkedIn is the most popular social media platform for professionals. Taking some time to correctly populate your profile will pay dividends when potential clients and referral sources track you down online. Make sure you follow these six tips to establish a killer LinkedIn profile:

1. Include a professional headshot and background image.

If I can impress any point upon you, let it be that your LinkedIn profile photo should not appear like this:


Here is my profile picture and background image, nothing earth-shattering and I did not have to spend $10,000 to get it put together. I hired a photographer for $500 to come in and take pictures of me and our staff which we have since re-purposed in about 20 different ways. I had the background image put together on Fiverr for $5.50.

You can’t be serious about social media marketing if you cant get this basic step accomplished.

2. Use an attention-getting headline.

The headline is the section of text next to your photo where you get the freedom to describe what it is that you do. You will see my “headline” below:


3. Include a complete experience list.

You will want to create an audit trail of the places you worked and your education background. This will allow prospective clients and referral sources to determine whether they want to connect with you based upon your work history.

The goal with the experience list is to not only create an online version of your resume that consumers and referral sources alike can filter through, but also to provide some context of where you have worked in the past, along with a tagline or a brief description of your work at each particular company.


4. List connections, contact info, and a custom URL.

Not only are you connecting with your colleagues and other professionals on LinkedIn, but you’re also getting access to their treasure trove of connections.

I try to limit my connections to people who I think I will be benefitted by being connected to, but I keep the definition “benefit” pretty general here. If you are: (a) geographically proximate to me or my firm or (b) somehow involved in my practice area, I’m likely going to accept the connection request.

Additionally, please put your contact information on your LinkedIn profile. Why would you want to hide? What’s the point of not having your contact information on there? I’m not saying you have to give away your personal cell phone number, but for heaven’s sake at least put an email address on the platform:


Thirdly, a big thing so many people miss out on the opportunity to do is establish a custom URL to include their name, like this:


5. Write a compelling summary written in narrative fashion.

The summary is a section which allows you to weave a narrative highlighting your career experiences with concrete examples of projects completed and the types of cases you worked on so that the average consumer can determine whether your services could be a fit for their appropriate needs.

Here’s my summary:


6. Use a clear call to action.

Like with all social media platforms, using a clear call to action will increase your engagement, reach and ultimately lead you to more revenue. Make sure you leave a clear call to action for people to reach out to you:



When you are looking to compose your profile, these are six key parts to focus on:
1. Professional headshot and background image
2. Attention getting headline
3. Complete experience list
4. Connections, contact info, custom URL
5. Compelling summary written in narrative fashion
6. Clear call to action

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Why To Put Your Marketing Dollars Into Social Media

Why To Put Your Marketing Dollars Into Social Media

Overall, social media is more cost-effective than traditional media. The amount of money that is required to run an effective print, TV or radio advertising campaign is far beyond the capabilities of most small businesses. Social media can deliver hundreds, possibly thousands, of impressions at little to no cost, depending on how you use the channel. There are noproduction costs or sales commissions, which contribute to theexorbitant price you pay to place ads on local TV or radio station. Most business owners are able to manage social media marketing in-house.

Social media allows you to cut out the gatekeeper. Gone are the days of depending on newspaper editors or media sales people to help you communicate with your customers.Most of my actual clients for my law practice are elderly,so on occasion I want to market to them using a traditional media platform like the physical newspaper. Not only am I blownaway by the exorbitant cost, but the crowded space of advertisers and the lack of impressions often leaves me wishing that more of my clientele was on Facebook andInstagram where I could market to them much more directly and more cost-effectively. Aside from a few easy to abide by rules, when it comes to social media the creative and scheduling decisions rest solely with the advertiser.

The main gripe most people have when it comes to traditional media, besides the cost is the difficulty in tracking ROI. Social media’s metrics and analytics make it easy to track results and eliminates a lot of the guesswork that goes into marketing. You can quickly find out if a particular campaignsucceeded or failed and use that information to your advantage when making future marketing decisions.

Additionally, one of the chief flaws of advertising has always been the one-sided quality of the conversation. The advertiser spoke, and the consumer listened. Social media renders this type of marketing obsolete. Now, companies and brands are able to interact directly, in some cases in real-time, with consumers. These conversations can be the source of valuableinsight for advertisers and allow for more meaningful engagement.

Social media’s conversion rate is one of the reasons for its growing popularity among advertisers. E-commerce has been responsible for a seismic shift in our shopping habits and digital marketing is perfectly poised to exploit this trend.Unlike traditional media, which asks consumers to store away the particulars of an offer or product till they are in the store orin front of their computer, with social media marketing they are only one click away from the purchase. When you combine engaging content, a strong offer, and a clear CTA, conversions will follow.

Now before you start putting all of your marketing dollars into social media marketing, be aware that I am not recommending that you rely completely on social media and ignore all forms of traditional media. However, I do want to impress upon you the power and cost-effectiveness of expanding your social media marketing.

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On Writing the Social Media Marketing Blueprint for Lawyers

On Writing the Social Media Marketing Blueprint for Lawyers

By now hopefully you know about my upcoming book: The Social Media Marketing Blueprint for Lawyers. It is scheduled to be published this fall, and I’m scheduled to speak to bar associations across the country this winter and next spring to preach the gospel of social media to lawyers and law firm administrators.


What you probably don’t know is how this idea came to be packaged into a book, and how I was able to pull it together while maintaining a growing law practice. I’m going to give you a little bit of a behind-the-scenes look here. The book initially started as a summer research project for an intern. At the time I was building my law practice and our presence across multiple social media platforms. It was a lot to manage by myself, and I was relying more and more on others to help generate content to post.

One morning I was out on a long run in my neighborhood and I thought that if I was struggling to pull all of my social media research and tools together and use them to efficiently manage my law firm’s social media presence, surely other lawyers were facing similar predicaments.

Coupled with that is the fear a lot of attorneys have of not knowing how to use social media, or what ethical pitfalls the various platforms might present, and it is enough to erect a giant roadblock to entry to social media for many attorneys. At that point, I knew the solution was to write a how-to manual to get attorneys started on the journey.

From there, I came up with a rough outline of how the book would unfold, basically an in-depth exploration of the major platforms, followed by how to apply each platform to various deployment strategies, including paid advertising, giveaways, offers, email marketing strategies and developing a plan to tie it together. I knew we had to have an expansive discussion of how to ethically do all this as a licensed attorney, and that’s right in the front of the book.

Once my outline was complete and buttressed with research, I began to tackle one chapter at a time. Some chapters were long, but easy to write because my passion for them was obvious and my experience extensive(i.e. Facebook). Some were more difficult and I really struggled through (I’m looking at you, Snapchat). Several drafts and revisions later, we have a book on the way to being published and hopefully purchased by attorneys across the country.

One fear I’ve had throughout the process is that the constant shifting landscape of social media could render the book outdated quickly if a seismic shift occurs.

I was recently describing to one of my colleagues the day I remember being notified of the existence of a new website called theFacebook.Thats right, I was lucky enough to be in college at the same time Mark Zuckerberg and his crew were first rolling out the newest social media platform to campuses across the country. My colleague was shocked when I told her that I had to sign an online petition to try to get our campus access to theFacebook. She was even more shocked it was called theFacebook.

I should probably mention that she is only 20 years old.That means she was probably 7 or 8 years old at that time. For those of us who recall the early days of any social media platform, or the early days of email or maybe even for some of you who remember the early days of the Internet, this can be a humbling experience.

What struck me most about this conversation was not how old I felt, but rather how far social media has progressed in such a short amount of time. There was a time when I was 20 years old where young kids were clamoring to get onto this cool, new website, theFacebook. Now, some 12 years later, the youngsters seem to have moved away from Facebook (they dropped the from the name about 11 years ago) in favor of hip, new photo-sharing platforms including Instagram (smartly purchased by Facebook in 2012 for $1 billion)and Snapchat.

This is the perfect analogy for my fears about the book:how frequently will I need to update this thing? No sooner had I finished a set of revisions to the manuscript and Instagram debuted a totally new feature taking the social media world by storm called Instagram Stories. My blog post about the feature can be found here. I don’t want to constantly have to revise the book for every little tweak. And that’s where the beauty of modern technology comes in. We’re simultaneously giving everyone who purchases the book access to the ebook. For everyone who redeems the ebook, we’re going to provide updates to the ebook as major changes happen in the social media world. That’s not to say I won’t update the physical book in the future, but email updates to the ebook will be a more efficient way to keep those who have invested in my book in the loop with the latest changes.

What I learned through trial and error, and what I hope to teach other lawyers, is that using social media successfully, first and foremost, requires good storytelling. That will not change, despite what happens with the technical updates to social media platforms. The themes in my book, weaving narratives on social, pushing content back-and-forth between platforms, and building your social media clique to drive brand awareness are universal, and I think, timeless.

Despite the ever-changing nature of social media, the one constant is that what is primarily required in the context of building and growing your own social media following is patience. You will not build a following of 25,000 devoted fans overnight. Your Facebook post about how you achieved a six-figure settlement for a personal injury post will probably not go viral. You know what goes viral: cat videos (I may or may not try to work in some cats to my next video posts). The book seeks to provide attorneys with the toolsI have acquired and am still developing, which we know will be ever-changing.

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Airbnb Creates Digital Atmosphere for Older Generations

Airbnb Creates Digital Atmosphere for Older Generations

With the recent announcement of my new book and more speaking opportunities about social media for lawyers getting added everyday (schedule to be released soon), it isnt a surprise that I believe the digital sphere is a very prevalent one for everyday life.



If you havent heard, AirBnB is one of the newest trends in social communication. It is a digital platform for renting out rooms in houses across the world. Recently, the New York Times published an article on how this business model has positively impacted people over the age of 60. The National Council on Aging reports over 25 million Americans aged 60+ are economically insecure and living at or below the federal poverty line. It is a pretty incredible concept that the digital landscape of AirBnB allows all, but especially older, generations to open up their homes for those travelling. We all see it as we age children move out of the house and rooms go unfilled for weeks, months or even years. This platform allows seniors to become Bed and Breakfast owners, the New York Times even adding that this is a dream for many, easily and accessibly.



While there is some concern because the concept entails opening your house to strangers, the platform allows a rating system for customers and apartment/house owners. There are also some concerns with how this works with what leases might allow tenants to do on their own. What do you think? Is this something you would do, if able, to have a little extra income each month? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!


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Communication is Key

Communication is Key

imagesI was recently mentioned in Chris Brocks article on the importance of communication for the Watertown Daily Times. When a spouse dies, there are unfortunately other pressing issues that coincide with grief. There is an emphasis on the legalities on next steps. In the article, Mr. Brock mentioned a few examples of individuals who testify their experiences to the unfortunate legal circumstances that occurred after losing their spouses. These experiences can fiercely open old wounds, and while some legal issues and battles are unavoidable, planning ahead and transparent communication can ease the burden. There is enough to worry about when a spouse or loved one dies. I, and other elder law and estate planning attorneys, aim to facilitate the easiest financial and legal transition after a tragedy such as this occurs.


Some important tips that Mr. Brock highlighted in his article include:


  1. Have a joint or individual bank account.


Social Security notifies the banks when individuals die. Banks will then shut down accounts of those members. If your husband or wife is the sole name on a bank account, especially with a credit card associated, you could wind up losing access to that account. Rather than having to handle that situation, it is best to have a joint or individual bank account.


  1. If youre going to use a bank safe deposit box, make it a joint titled one.


If people are storing cash or bonds in their safe deposit boxes in a bank, that can be OK. But I like to have a jointly titled safe deposit box, so at least when one spouse passes away, the other one can still access it. I am a much bigger proponent of fireproof strong boxes in the house for important documents. If a bank safe deposit box is only in the name of one individual, their spouse will not be able to access it without a court order in the tragedy of their passing.


  1. Joint vehicle titles


Can we see a trend here? In order to ease these legal battles after a spouse dies, joint ownership on titles, whether its a car, boat, trailer, etc., will prevent losing these items. Registration and insurance are not the things that are going to cause problems when you go to the DMV. Its going to be the title.


Grieving is a terribly challenging process. But planning ahead and openly communicating with your spouse or loved one will give you one less thing to worry about in times of need. If you or anyone you know has any questions or concerns or would like to schedule a free consultation, you can call or visit the Marrone Law Firm in Watertown and Syracuse, New York at (315) 728-9433.

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The Art of Aging

The Art of Aging




It seems like every time I turn on the TV some sort of anti-aging product is aggressively advertised. Whether it is an anti-aging moisturizer, an anti-aging vitamin supplement or what have you. While these products may help older generations feel young and revitalized, there is something that feels very corporate to these developments.




It feels like companies and consumers are looking for a cure to aging.


Age is more than a number. Age is experience, age is wisdom, age is lessons learned, had and felt. But to say that number does not matter would be wrong. Denying the aging process of our bodies and hiding behind skin-care and beauty products to look 20 years younger does not necessarily mean that 70-year-old you will be able to do the things you once did when you were 50. It can actually be somewhat dangerous. While our bodies may feel much younger than our actual age, if we are pushing them too far past their limits it could cause major damage.


Even more, it upholds ridiculous standards for people to follow. Aging does not have to be the dreaded process it is made out to be. And it isnt the ugly process people make it seem. To pretend that aging is avoidable would be unrealistic and that is why it is extremely frustrating that anti-aging has become the norm. We dont need to find a cure for aging! Aging can and should be appreciated as the beautiful process that it naturally is.


To feel younger is a different story. As our life expectancies increase, the desire to feel the vigor of youth is attractive. Scientists say the first person to live to be 150 years old has already been born, and if that becomes the new normal, developing strategies to feel good as we age will become of vital importance. Aging can be scary if it means feeling less than your younger self. But there are some natural ways to feel your 100% self.

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 11.53.31 AM



We always ask our clients what their secrets are to a long life and weve distilled many of the hilarious but impractical tips (whiskey everyday, steak three times a week) and developed these three easy steps:


1. Drink a lot of water

Drinking water is a natural way to stay hydrated and keep your body as healthy as possible. No matter what age you are, drinking more water is the first step to maintaining overall health. Drinking water can temporarily boost metabolism by 24-30%,can increase energy expenditure by about 96 calories per day and more.


2. Exercise

Getting out of bed or off the couch is an easy way to keep your body in its most functional form no matter your age. Yoga and aerobics challenge people physically and mentally and allow the mind and body to stay in its best shape. Research has shown that people who are physically active for about 7 hours a week have a 40%lower risk of dying early than those who are active for less than 30 minutes a week.


3. Stress less


Many studies show that the constant fight-or-flight physical reaction is very harmful to the human body. Practicing meditation or simple breathing exercises will keep your mind at ease and your body feeling up to par.



Aging isnt ugly. You dont need to look like you are in your 20s to feel like you are. Taking care of your body to feel healthy is the new anti-aging. Financially and emotionally investing into anti-aging beauty products is not.

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Get Your Assets Organized For The New Year

Get Your Assets Organized For The New Year

The beginning of the year is the perfect time to organize your assets, financial and digital, and to review your existing estate plan. If you have not already established an estate plan, make a resolution now to get it done this year. Check out Attorney Marrone’s interview to help you get organized now.

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Lawyers and Caregivers: 3 Tips for Success

Lawyers and Caregivers: 3 Tips for Success

Welcome to our new visitors joining us for the Holiday Progressive Blog Party. This week is dedicated to bringing good cheer to family caregivers, and I hope to add to that by breaking down some barriers in terms of access to lawyers and provide some steps for lawyers and caregivers to work together toward a common goal.

For those of you who do not know me, I am an attorney in Central New York and Northern New York (offices in Syracuse and along the St. Lawrence River) practicing in the areas of estate planning, elder law and elder care, guardianships and nursing home planning. I have practiced in this field since I graduated law school in 2009, and in March 2015 opened my own law firm to try to break down some of the barriers in access to legal services for the elderly population.

I want to start out this week by providing some tips for caregivers and lawyers who are working together toward a common goal of assisting your loved one or client. In my experience, working directly with caregivers has provided some of the most rewarding moments of practice, and definitely some of the most emotional. I was present with a family caregiver and other loved ones when one of my clients made the difficult decision to leave her lifelong home and relocate to a skilled nursing facility, and I was present with a hired caregiver and a client with no family when she passed away peacefully in her home.  Lawyers are not on the “front line” in that we don’t typically navigate the emotional rollercoaster of being a caregiver on a day-by-day basis, but we (the good ones at least) are there when any difficult decision needs to be made.

With that in mind, here are my top three tips for lawyers and caregivers to improve outcomes for loved ones and clients and provide an overall better quality of care and legal service:

Establish clear expectations and boundaries

From the beginning of a relationship involving lawyer-caregiver-client, it is imperative that all parties have clear expectations of expected outcomes. One of my preferred ways to tease out this information is to ask the caregiver, “if my representation is a success, what do you think that will look like?” This usually allows us to engage in a free-flowing conversation about the length and scope of my representation, and it also very quickly allows my to identify the goals of the caregiver and the client. Admittedly, I struggle with setting up clear boundaries with caregivers. My tendency to want to always help has resulted in my chauffeuring hired caregivers to the bus station, picking up groceries, and shopping for underwear and socks for the client. Some of these activities I enjoy, but admittedly they are not the best use of my time.

Enter the 21st Century when communicating

This is an area where I’ve been able to really modernize the lawyer-caregiver dynamic and provide more prompt feedback in a way that assists the caregiver and client, but also does not clog my schedule. Primarily, my recommendation here is for the lawyer to use text messaging as the primary mode of communication with the caregiver. Many caregivers do not have time or access to their email when they are providing care to their loved one or client, and often they need prompt feedback on a specific issue.

Likewise, time-consuming phone calls with a lawyer can be costly and distracting. Text messaging provides the quickest method of response and the most cost-effective way to communicate. This may took some encouragement to get lawyers to adopt, we’re historically the slowest technology adopters. With some coaxing, the lawyer should soon realize the text message method of communication provides a direct pipeline for client access in a way that frees up the lawyer’s time while providing timely service.

Provide feedback and recognition

People thrive on positive feedback. People in difficult situations especially need reminders that they are doing a great job and that their efforts are appreciated. One of the best ways I’ve implemented this in my practice is through having periodic meetings with the caregiver and focusing on the areas where we have been mutually successful. Sometimes without first-hand knowledge of how the caregiver handles day-to-day issues, it is hard to provide specific feedback on that front. What does work is encouraging others that the lawyer interacts with to provide similar positive feedback to the caregiver. One of the biggest complaints I receive from hired and family caregivers is that it is a thankless position. A review of most of the blogs on this Holiday Progressive Blog Party indicates that the position really comes up short sometimes when it comes to recognition of successes and extraordinary efforts. We try in our practice to reward caregivers and constantly provide positive feedback and encouragement.

I hope these three suggestions will help the lawyer-caregiver dynamic improve, and that together we can continue to break new ground as we provide care to our loved ones.

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3 Steps To Maximize The Effectiveness Of Your Charitable Donation

3 Steps To Maximize The Effectiveness Of Your Charitable Donation

6198994Charitable giving is at an all-time high in the United States with approximately $358 billion in donations made in 2014. There were increases by individual donors, foundations and corporations. According to the Center on Philanthropy, by 2055 some $41 trillion will change hands as Americans pass on their accumulated assets to the next generation.

The question everyone wants answered is how to maximize the effectiveness of giving. Many people are worried about giving to a smaller charity such as a church or cemetery association because of longevity concerns and organizational hierarchies that might hinder the effectiveness of the donation.

The easy solution to that is to rely on a local community foundation to administer your donations for your benefit. People are usually shocked when we share with them how easy and worry-free it is to set up a fund with a local community foundations. Depending on your locale, a fund can usually be started for $10,000 or less. While that is certainly a lot of money, we want to show you three ways to make that initial donation to start your fund without touching your savings or checking account:

  1. Gift of stock or securities-The stock or securities account that you regularly receive statements for but are not regularly cashing in to spend the proceeds of can make for an excellent start to your fund at a community foundation. Depending on the appreciation in the stock, this can provide a dual benefit of a current income tax deduction and avoidance of capital gains on the sale of the stock.
  2. Donation from your IRA-In recent years we have advised clients to make a “Qualified Charitable Distribution” from their IRA to charity to make a pre-tax contribution and avoid income tax slippage. Those rules have lapsed again in 2015, but we still advise clients to take their Required Minimum Distribution that they are not spending and make a charitable contribution.
  3. Beneficiary of Life Insurance-Naming your fund at the community foundation as a beneficiary of the life insurance policy may provide current and future income tax benefits. Additionally, assigning total ownership of the life insurance policy provides a nice tax perk.

We hope that these tips on how to create a fund with a community foundation have helped you to see that it is possible to leverage large charitable donations without ever writing a check. This is just the tip of the iceberg, if you are interested in learning more about charitable planning contact me

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Can’t I Just Give My House To My Kids?

Can’t I Just Give My House To My Kids?

654659_origWithout a doubt, the number one question I get from clients is, “Can’t I just give away my house to my kids?” At this point, I start to worry if clients don’t ask this question. Everyone thinks they can trust their kids and that their kids will get along fine after they are no longer around. I usually answer the question by telling two real life stories that ends this line of discussion.

First, I tell them about a former client who has since passed away and decided to give her house to her son and daughter. The client went to a solo practitioner and the lawyer prepared what is called a life estate deed. Basically, the client gave away the right to own the house after she died to her two children. Unfortunately, her son died before she did. Then, because technically the client’s kids owned a right to the house even though their mom was still alive, the daughter-in-law sued the client and the client’s son to compel a sale of the home through a process called partition. Keep in mind, this is while the client is still alive and residing in her own home!

Second, I trot out the story of the mom who gave her house to her daughter when they were living together. The mom thought she was doing a good thing and followed some advice she received from her friend. Well, because of a fight the mom and daughter got into, the daughter evicted her mother from the house. She then proceeded to sue her mom to keep her off the premises!

These examples are extreme, but they are both real cases that came to me after the fact to try to preserve some of the assets the parents had left. It may seem unbelievable that these stories could even be allowed to occur in real life, they almost seem like something out of a television show. The lesson is that what seems the simplest path, especially in planning your affairs, may end up much more complex in the long run. This is why we recommend the Family Protection Trust for clients in this situation and with a desire to preserve the family home and maintain control over that asset for as long as possible.

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Long-Term Care Insurance Update

Long-Term Care Insurance Update

6337999_origIt feels like we are writing about this topic quite frequently lately, but the New York State Department of Insurance recently approved massive premium increases for owners of long-term care insurance policies provided by three companies: Genworth, First Unum, and MetLife.

The story carried by the New York Times details the increases requested by these companies, mostly in the 85% range, but none will be raised by more than 60%. That still can be a huge amount of money. Let’s say Sally buys a long-term care insurance policy when she is 60 and the annual premium is $3,500. Now Sally is 70, on a fixed-income and recently retired. If her annual premium increases 60% she will have to pay $5,600 this year to keep the policy. On average, that could cost her another $25,000 over the life of the policy in addition to what she already planned to pay.

This is the reason so many insurers are now offering a variable product, basically life insurance with a long-term care rider and some are even offering policies that just pay for in-home care. As we recently discussed, you will want to think long and hard if you are planning on canceling the policy because of the increase, because there could be a lot of hidden traps and exposure by canceling. We also think it’s a great time to consider a Family Protection Trust. 

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How To Save Money When You’re Already In The Nursing Home And Have Done No Planning

How To Save Money When You’re Already In The Nursing Home And Have Done No Planning

626213There is a common misconception that when a loved one or client enters the nursing home having done nothing in advance to protect assets, there are no options remaining. This is simply not true. While it is cheaper and easier to protect your assets in advance of needing nursing home care by using our Medicaid Trust, there are at least two important planning devices that can be implemented in a scenario where no advanced planning has been completed.

Spousal Refusal
First, for married couples, a strategy exists which potentially allows a spouse who remains in the community to retain significant assets in their name while the spouse residing in the nursing home qualifies for Medicaid benefits to pay for their stay at the facility. This strategy, called “spousal refusal”, allows a couple with assets in excess of the permitted limits to still qualify for Medicaid. For 2015 in New York State the spouse residing in the community is permitted to retain between $74,820 and $119,220 on a sliding scale in assets (called the Community Spouse Resource Allowance), depending on the amount of assets.

In addition to this Community Spouse Resource Allowance, a community spouse may retain: their home, an automobile, pre-paid funerals and burials for immediate family members, necessary tangible personal property, and retirement accounts in payout status. These assets are exempt for purposes of Medicaid qualification of the institutionalized spouse, but do not prohibit the government from instituting collection activities to recover the assets after the death of both spouses.

The spousal refusal option comes into play only when one spouse is already in the nursing home and requires careful planning by an attorney to shift assets into the community spouse’s name and subsequent to enrollment in Medicaid to use a Medicaid Trust to potentially shelter those same assets if the community spouse needs nursing home care within the following 5 years.

Gift Planning
In 2005 a major shift in Federal law altered the landscape of crisis planning for individuals already in a nursing home or for whom nursing home placement was imminent. Prior to that change, you could simply give away 1/2 of your assets and retain the other 1/2 and eventually qualify for Medicaid by spending down the 1/2 you retained until you reached the Medicaid resource qualification levels. After 2005, Medicaid now requires that if you want to start the clock running to qualify for Medicaid, you must be at the Medicaid resource qualification levels.

This means that you can no longer retain 1/2 of your assets and use them to spend down until you qualify for Medicaid. This change in Federal law resulted with the creation of what is referred to as a DRA (the Federal Deficit Reduction Act of 2005) compliant promissory note planning.

At its simplest, if you give away 1/2 of your assets, and loan the other 1/2 of your assets to your children, pursuant to a promissory note that complies with all the technical requirements of the Federal law, and your children repay you under the terms of the promissory note, you can qualify for Medicaid after you have turned over the amount of the loan to the nursing home. This is a complicated concept and requires the skills of a trained elder law attorney prior to implementation. The calculations for how much to give away and how much to loan are not 50/50, but rather, are dependent on the average cost of nursing home care and your monthly income, so the calculations are different in every single case.

These are just two of the strategies possible to qualify for Medicaid in a nursing home even if you have not done any planning. Please contact us if you or a loved one is interested in discussing these strategies further.

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Why Your Trust Is A Waste Of Money

Why Your Trust Is A Waste Of Money

2452038_origYou’ve done your homework, you shopped around, you met with an attorney several times and you finally have a set of signed documents. It is most unfortunate that you wasted a sum of money, probably in the thousands of dollars for these documents, because they may not be working for you. We have seen dozens of clients who come to consult with us that have trusts that are either inappropriate for their needs, not properly funded with their assets or do not convey the client’s intentions. Some trusts are a combination of these problems. So let’s explore some of these common problems with trusts and what you, as the consumer, can do to avoid these pitfalls:

  • Revocable Trust: One of the biggest problems we see are clients with revocable trusts that do not really need them or know why they have them. A revocable trust accomplishes NOTHING if you are interested in protecting your assets. Let me repeat that, a revocable trust does NOTHING to protect your assets from your long-term health care expenses. Many attorneys push revocable trusts on clients to avoid the process known as probate, which the attorneys advertise as expensive, scary and time-consuming. On the contrary, the probate process in New York is rather straightforward, and depending on your level of assets, not nearly as expensive as an improperly established and maintained revocable trust. There are certain times when a revocable trust would be useful, particularly for people who only have distant relatives and no immediate family and in instances where a probate contest is likely based on prior acrimony. We find that for most clients, the revocable trust is not the best vehicle to accomplish their goals and limit their future exposure to expenses.


  • Trust Not Funded: The biggest problem for people with trusts in existence today is that the trusts do not own what they are supposed to own. In New York, if you want the terms of your trust to direct what happens to a particular asset, that asset needs to be presently titled to the trust. If I have a savings account and I want that money to be administered after my death according to the terms of my trust, I need to retitle that account into the name of my trust. Many attorneys do not assist clients with this aspect of trust administration. We spend the most time helping clients fund their trusts and make sure that everything they want the trust to own has been retitled properly. 


  • Doesn’t Say What You Want: The worst thing that can happen is you pay thousands of dollars for a trust that doesn’t convey your true intentions. Part of the problem usually is that either the attorney who prepared the trust did not spend enough time with you to figure out what you really want, or, you told them what you really want and they just used their standard and form language because it is easier for them to produce documents that way. This is where a commitment to client service makes a huge difference. I don’t want to put people into a trust that they (a) don’t totally understand and (b) don’t like because it doesn’t convey their intentions and goals appropriately. I spend a lot of time with clients figuring out what they want the end product to look like, and then we customize each individual trust to fit those goals and needs.

I hope you have not wasted any money purchasing a trust that does not work for you. Perhaps you have a revocable trust and don’t really need one, maybe your trust is not funded correctly or at all, or it does not say what you want it to say. In any event, we enjoy working with people to correct these issues and to modify your existing trust or create a new trust that works best for you.

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Five Things To Know About A Medicaid Trust.

Five Things To Know About A Medicaid Trust.

8621533One of the main goals our clients have is to protect and preserve assets for the next generation. Against that context, we provide an extensive amount of consultation surrounding Medicaid planning, particularly for those who cannot afford or do not want to pay in excess of $10,000 per month to the nursing home, and for those without long-term care insurance.

I wanted to provide a basic explanation of the Trust and give you five quick things to know about it, and provide some links for additional reading for those who are interested. It is a complicated topic, but here are my top five things you need to know to determine if this planning is right for you:

  1. You remain in control: Our Family Protection Trust is designed to allow you to maintain the maximum level of control over your assets the law will allow. This means you cannot distribute trust principal to yourself. A quick example may be useful: say your house is owned by the Trust, you can sell your house (see #2 below!), and you can even use the proceeds to buy or rent a replacement residence. However, you cannot sell your house and take the proceeds and go on a trip to Bali. There is a loophole (yay lawyers!) that allows you to distribute principal to a beneficiary, but you can’t distribute it to yourself.
  2. You can still sell your house and other assets: As discussed above, if your Family Protection Trust owns your house or other assets, you have the discretion to sell those assets and purchase replacement assets. So if you want to downsize your home to a condominium, you can do that all within the confines of the Family Protection Trust.
  3. You don’t need to file a second tax return: We prepare the Family Protection Trust so that it uses your Social Security Number for income-tax purposes. This means you retain all the tax benefits of your assets and there is no additional tax preparation fee or any additional taxes caused by the Trust.
  4. There is no ongoing cost: The Family Protection Trust is designed to be user-friendly and there is no ongoing maintenance costs to keep it going or to add assets to it later on down the road. This coupled with the lack of any additional tax reporting makes the Family Protection Trust the easiest way to protect and preserve assets for the next generation.
  5. Orderly administration at time of distribution: If nothing else, the Family Protection Trust allows you to avoid probate on assets titled to it at the time of distribution. It is important that all of the assets you want the Family Protection Trust to own actually are formally re-titled to the Trust, otherwise we may still need to probate your Last Will and Testament to distribute assets held in your name alone and not in the name of the Family Protection Trust.

This is just a quick snapshot of some of the reasons we love the Family Protection Trust for clients who desire some asset protection planning and want to preserve the resources they have worked their whole life to save. Contact us for more information or to discuss this planning in-depth.

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Book Review: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? By Roz Chast

Book Review: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? By Roz Chast

6268974_origYou probably recognize the author of this book more from her great cartoons in The New Yorker than as the author of one of the greatest modern works on caregiving. Roz Chast is a member of the Sandwich Generation, a group of folks in their 30s-50s tasked with providing care to both aging parents and growing children. It is a phenomenon birthed of both our increasing longevity as a people, and the delayed onset of starting a family by many born in the 1970s-80s.

This book, but its not really a book, its what the cool kids call a graphic novel, beautifully traces Chast’s experience with her own conservative, urban parents as they age and Chast struggles to provide for their needs. Chast perfectly described her feelings, which I feel sum up a lot of the current struggles we all have with long-term care costs in her interview on Fresh Air by saying, “They were frugal…they were very careful about money. To see all that scrimping just sort of…like a Niagara Falls of expense at the end.”

I won’t spoil any more of the details, but I feel the book is a perfect lighthearted and quick read for anyone going through or having been through a struggle with parents or other relatives as they navigate leaving the family home, transitioning to some kind of senior living, the loss of a parent, and ultimately the loss of both parents.

I recommend this for all of my clients and friends who are dealing with any parent or relative in these various stages, and I’ve never heard a disappointing review. I’ve got so many copies of this book in circulation right now, I should start a library system. Check it out here.

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FAQ: Medicaid Trusts

FAQ: Medicaid Trusts

We get questions all the time about our Medicaid qualifying Family Protection Trusts. Here is our Frequently Asked Questions guide to help you decide whether this planning is appropriate for you.

In order to assist you in qualifying for Medicaid, the trust must be irrevocable. However, in New York even an irrevocable trust can be altered or undone if necessary.

Yes, for as long as you are able to manage your own affairs, there are no legal restrictions to serving as Trustee of your own Medicaid trust. You and your own spouse can serve as Co-Trustee together as well. There are some risks with serving as Trustee of your own Medicaid trust, and you really need to stick to the trust rules in order to make it work for Medicaid qualification purposes.

As a general rule, you can manage your assets in the trust the same way you would outside of the trust. If you own a stock portfolio, you can continue buying and selling stock. If your house is in the Medicaid trust you will retain property tax exemptions and the ability to sell your house without requiring permission from anyone. The major restriction on the trust is that you cannot distribute principal to yourself. If you need a new roof on the house, principal can be used for that purpose (or anything connected to your residence), but you cannot simply cash $50,000 in principal out of the trust to purchase a new vehicle or go on a trip.
Yes. Any income, interest, rent, or dividends generated by the trust goes to the trust creator. This gives the trust creator cashflow to cover ongoing expenses that cannot be paid for by the trust. We usually draft the Medicaid trust so that the right to take this income lapses at a certain point if it is not withdrawn, to help qualify for Medicaid.

Not exactly. Our Medicaid trust is designed to be income tax neutral. What this means is that you will continue to report trust income on your personal income tax return. You will not need to pay to have an extra income tax return prepared and you will continue to pay income tax at the lower bracketed rates for individuals rather than the higher rates at which trusts pay income taxes.

If you want or need to withdraw principal from the trust, the Trustee can make a distribution of principal to a child/grandchild or other beneficiary of the trust specifically designated in the trust document. That person would then make a tax-free gift of the principal back to you. This has to be structured in a way to avoid gift tax reporting, and you need to consult with an attorney or CPA to do this properly.

Once you pass away, the terms of the trust should mirror the terms of your Last Will and Testament and provide for distribution to the beneficiaries of your choosing, either outright or staying in trust for them for a period of time.

Once your assets are re-titled to the trust, you do not need to have any ongoing expenses. Most of our clients choose to enroll in our Annual Maintenance Plan that provides annual meeting opportunities and other benefits, but there is no requirement to enroll. Also, there won’t be any added taxes or administrative expenses.

Medicaid trusts often come under scrutiny when the government is trying to save money on health expenses for the elderly. The amount of time you need to create a Medicaid trust in advance of needing care expanded from 36 months to 60 months. There is consistent talk in Congress to expand this period beyond 60 months. These Medicaid trusts will nonetheless remain a valuable planning tool, they just may need to be implemented even earlier in order to be as effective as possible.
The major hurdle for most people is the restriction not allowing principal to be distributed to the trust creator. We spend a lot of time with clients discussing trust funding and making sure they have enough money outside of the trust in order to not encounter this problem. The only other major disadvantage is for people who do not make the 60-month loopback period and potentially have to unravel the trust to complete the Medicaid qualification process.

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FAQ: Power Of Attorney

FAQ: Power Of Attorney

A Power of Attorney is a legal document where you (the “Principal”) give authority to make financial decisions to someone you trust (the “Agent”). The Power of Attorney is often referred to as the POA.

Anyone who is over eighteen (18) years of age in New York can sign a Power of Attorney if they understand the nature of what they are signing and have legal capacity.

The Power of Attorney is the cheapest and most effective way to appoint someone to manage your financial affairs if you become unable to do so. If you do not have a Power of Attorney, your family may need to go to Court and ask a judge to appoint a guardian for you. This applies even if you are married because spouses do not have a right to access accounts owned by the other spouse individually and in their name alone.

Anyone who is over eighteen (18) years of age and that you trust implicitly to make responsible decisions that will consistently be in your best interest. Most often this is someone in your family. Lawyers, accountants and other professionals can also serve in this capacity if no one in your family is available to handle the responsibility.

The Power of Attorney takes effect in New York when it is signed by the Principal and the Agent. The requirement that the Agent signs is relatively new to the law and was designed to minimize the financial exploitation these documents were causing among the elderly population. Often we will have the Agent sign the document much later so that it is not in effect until the document needs to be used.

Generally the Power of Attorney has to be honored in New York, but not in any other state. The document may be honored in another state, but it is best practice to contact an attorney in your new state to determine whether the document will be honored.

The biggest disadvantage is not having a Power of Attorney! You should be careful with the person you select as Agent and how much authority you give to that person. There are mechanisms in the law that let you appoint someone to monitor the Agent and give your family the right to ask the Agent how they are managing your funds which helps to ease many people’s fears.

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FAQ: Health Care Proxy

FAQ: Health Care Proxy


A Health Care Proxy is a legally enforceable document in New York utilized to appoint someone (your Agent) to make health care decisions for you if you become unable, even temporarily, to make health care decisions for yourself. Appointing an Agent lets you control your future medical care and allows your agent to make health care decisions on your behalf as you would want them decided. Selecting your Agent could avoid conflict or confusion among family members and loved ones.


Anyone 18 years of age or older can be an Agent under your Health Care Proxy form. The person you are appointing as your agent or your alternate agent cannot sign as a witness on your Health Care Proxy, and it is not a good idea to select your treating physician because of conflict of interest policies that would require they stop treating you if they are your Agent.


Your health care agent would begin to make health care decisions after your doctor decides that you are not able to make your own health care decisions. As long as you are able to make health care decisions for yourself, you will have the right to do so.

Your agent will be able to make any health care decision that you could have made if you were
able to decide on your own. Your agent can agree that you should receive treatment, choose among different treatments and decide that treatments should not be provided, in accordance with your wishes and interests.


Even though you are not elderly or terminally ill, it is a good idea to sign a Health Care Proxy now. An Agent under a HCP  can act on your behalf if you become even temporarily unable to make your own health care decisions (i.e. during surgery or if you are incapacitated by an accident).  When you regain the ability make your own health care decisions, your health care agent will no longer be authorized to act.


Your Agent must follow your wishes, as well as your moral and religious beliefs. You may write instructions on your Health Care Proxy form or simply discuss them with your agent. However, your agent can only make decisions about a feeding tube if the Agent knows your wishes from what you have said or what you have written. The Health Care Proxy form does not give your agent the power to make non-health care decisions for you, such as financial decisions, this is covered by your Power of Attorney.


You may appoint an alternate Agent to decide for you if your primary Agent is unavailable, unable or unwilling to act. Likewise, you can put the Agent’s cell phone number on the Health Care Proxy form to permit out-of-town Agents to still converse with your treating medical professionals. Otherwise, health care providers will make health care decisions for you that follow instructions you gave while you were still able to do so, if any. Any instructions that you write on your Health Care Proxy form will guide health care providers under these circumstances.


A living will is a document that is not legally enforceable and only  provides instructions about end-of-life treatment. As a best practice, we always include these instructions on the Health Care Proxy form. The Health Care Proxy allows you to choose someone you trust to make health care decisions on your behalf, and does not require that you know in advance all the decisions that may arise. If you want to indicate your end-of-life preferences in writing, the best method is to include them on your Health Care Proxy form.


Most Health Care Proxy forms have optional organ and tissue donation sections. You can specify and limit how and what organs and tissue may be donated. Failure to elect to become an organ donor on your Health Care Proxy form does not preclude you from using an optional method to enroll in organ donation (i.e. complying with the rules for becoming an organ donor on your Driver’s License or by registering in the NY Organ Donor Network.

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What To Do About My Long-Term Care Insurance?

What To Do About My Long-Term Care Insurance?

626213Recent news has been bad if you are an owner of long-term care insurance. Some companies have raised premiums significantly in the wake of an increasing number of claims made by policy owners and increasing cost of care.

For many policyholders, especially those on a fixed income, the raise in premiums may be academic and force them to let go of the insurance altogether, but we think there are three things to consider when deciding whether to continue on with your long-term care insurance:

  1. How Much Care Does the Policy Provide: This is a major area where people have no idea what their policy will even pay for. We had a client recently who only had $150 per day in nursing home coverage and no rider to provide for inflation. That client ended up being sued by the nursing home because there was a shortfall between what the policy would pay out and the nursing home’s bill. It is important to review the coverage amounts, the length of coverage, and what type of coverage (i.e. in-home, assisted living, nursing home) the policy will provide.
  2. How Much Longer Will I Likely Have to Pay: For folks who are in their early retirement years, the prospect of a major increase to premiums now does not bode well for the future. The average age of someone to enter into a nursing home in the U.S. is 79. Depending on your family history and current health situation, the average length of time you may have to continue to pay on a policy could be a major factor into whether you keep the coverage.
  3. Availability of Other Planning Tools: If you already have a secondary plan in place, including a Medicaid Trust, the cancellation of a long-term care insurance policy may not be the worst thing. By no means do we think that the Trust, in and of itself, is an all-encompassing solution. The Trust will not provide benefits like in-home care coverage and assisted living coverage that a long-term care insurance policy contains. However, for the right client, a Trust and other planning may be sufficient depending on your resources and income needs.

We know as long-term care insurance becomes more expensive and more difficult to get, many policyholders will be faced with the challenge of possibly abandoning their policies. We hope that those owners will examine these three areas before deciding how to proceed.

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Have You Had “The Talk” With Your Aging Parents?

Have You Had “The Talk” With Your Aging Parents?

6603119If you have tried to have a conversation with your parents about handling their affairs after they die, only to have them respond they’re not ready to have “the talk”, you might want to re-think approaching them to discuss the topic.

Before you even broach the topic, think about the information you are seeking. You need to know much more than whether a Will exists. Are there powers of attorney or health care proxies? Do they have life insurance? Have they made a list of every single account that they owe or collect money from?

When discussing these issues with parents, try to avoid placing blame on them and making “You” statements,. Don’t say “Why didn’t you take care of this sooner?” Instead try, “I am worried about honoring your wishes and doing the right thing after you pass away.”

Once the parent is on-board and willing to have the conversation, you can broach the idea of bringing in trusted people to the conversation — hopefully a professional. You might ask to tag along on a visit to your parents’ lawyer or financial advisor just so that you can get educated.

Hopefully, the process will bring about peace of mind for you and your parents, so that they can continue to enjoy their golden years, and you won’t spend sleepless nights worried about managing their affairs when they are gone.

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Problems With “Observation” Status And Medicare

Problems With “Observation” Status And Medicare

5744932One of the most frustrating things about trying to help someone get into a nursing home and figure out how to pay for it is Medicare coverage.

To recap, Medicare is the federal insurance program that pays for things like hospitalizations, doctor visits, and prescription drugs for seniors. As opposed to Medicaid, which we primarily discuss on this blog, which is the jointly-funded state/federal program that pays for long-term care admissions for seniors (among many other things).

The basic rule for nursing home planning is that if you are admitted into the hospital for 3 days, Medicare will cover up to your first 100 days if you are discharged to a nursing home. There are a slew of complicated technical rules about how you must be discharged and how you can use those 100 days, but I want to focus on what we think is a very basic prerequisite, the condition that you must be admitted to the hospital for 3 days.

For most of my clients, this used to be simple. You would have a triggering event requiring hospitalization and would spend the minimum 3 days recovering prior to discharge to a nursing home for more recovery. Recent changes in Medicare reimbursements to hospitals have triggered an increase in patients being held for “observation”.

Being held for observation rather than being admitted as a patient eliminates the possibility that Medicare will pay for up to the first 100 days if you are discharged to a nursing home. This really hurts patients and their families more than anyone else. If your family member is going to need Medicaid to fund the nursing home stay, this accelerates the requirement to file a Medicaid application.

Rather than encouraging clients to engage in an appeal of the Medicare process, which can be lengthy, expensive and not that rewarding, we suggest strong family advocacy to the hospital personnel and staff if your loved one is being held for observation instead of admitted, especially if you think discharge to a nursing home is a likely outcome.

The real solution, or at least one of them, would be to permit stays in the hospital under observation status to count toward your 3 midnights for Medicare coverage. There are several proposals in Congress to address this, but in the meantime, zealous advocacy on behalf of our clients is the only resolution short of litigation.

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Elder Abuse-Did You Know?

Elder Abuse-Did You Know?

Next month I’m presenting a national webinar entitled, “Recognizing and Reporting Elder Financial Abuse”. Here’s one of the slides I’m working on. I am continuously shocked when I read statistics about how infrequently elder financial exploitation is reported and acted on. I am hopeful that as this issue comes to light, we will all work to craft more robust remedies to this growing problem.

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Financial Exploitation & The Elderly

Financial Exploitation & The Elderly

Financial exploitation of the elderly is one of the most under-reported crimes, and is unfortunately growing more and more widespread. There are steps you can take if you think you know someone who is a victim of elder financial exploitation. Please view Attorney Marrone’s interview discussing this problem and some possible solutions.

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Organ Donation And The Law
Fighting With The Power Of Attorney

Fighting With The Power Of Attorney

9436030It’s hard enough living 6 hours away from your aging parents without having the added stress thinking that your brother may be taking money from them. That is just the scenario Roger was in living in Maine when his parents were aging in Upstate New York. Roger would call his brother Bill and ask him for information about their parents and Bill was always very defensive and protective of their parents’ health and financial information. When Roger would inquire with his parents, they told him that Bill was managing all of their finances and they had not seen a bank statement in months. They also informed Roger that Bill kept their checkbook and debit card with him at all times. By the time Roger hired an attorney and tracked down his parent’s bank statements, Bill had already removed over $75,000.00 from their accounts.

Roger’s story is certainly not out of the norm. As younger generations continuously move out of state, their aging parents are often left alone or at the mercy of whatever family remains local.

Luckily, in New York State adult siblings now have a simple mechanism in the law to hold their siblings or whomever is managing their parents’ finances accountable. The General Obligations Law provides that if you are the spouse or child of someone who has a Power of Attorney that is acting for them you are entitled to:

  1. A copy of the Power of Attorney;
  2. A legal determination on the validity of the Power of Attorney;
  3. A legal determination whether the principal had capacity to sign the Power of Attorney;
  4. A legal determination whether the Power of Attorney was the product of duress, fraud or undue influence;
  5. A legal determination whether the Agent under the Power of Attorney is entitled to compensation;
  6. A legal determination to approve the receipts, disbursements and transactions under the Power of Attorney;
  7. To remove the Agent

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but just a sampling of the remedies a frustrated sibling or child can utilize under the General Obligations Law. By far the two provisions we use the most are to compel an actual copy of the Power of Attorney be distributed to the children or siblings and to compel an accounting of the receipts, disbursements and transactions from the Agent.

These changes in the law provided a tremendous amount of relief to siblings and children of those with a Power of Attorney, especially in the face of rising amounts of financial exploitation by people using the Power of Attorney document. If you have a dispute with a family member over a Power of Attorney, contact our office today,, or (315) 728-9433.

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