Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Sound Publishing’s The Time of Your Life, Spring 2015.
Richard Tizzano would be the first person to tell you that he stumbled into his work as a life care and estate attorney.
In fact, it was when he was trying to negotiate his father’s journey to old age that he became very aware of what all was involved.
“When it came time for my father to go to a nursing home in 1998, I realized there was a whole jungle out there that I knew nothing about,” Tizzano said. “And I found it hard to get good information.”
Tizzano is an attorney at Sherrard McGonagle Tizzano with offices in Poulsbo and on Bainbridge Island. He is a 1992 graduate of the University of Puget Sound School of Law and practiced law in California before moving to Poulsbo.
At that time, his father was in an independent living facility in Tacoma. But when the time came that he couldn’t be on his own, Tizzano began researching places for his father in Poulsbo, and decided on Martha & Mary.
“It was great,” he said. “I could walk over on my lunch hour and visit with him.”
His father died in 2000. But Tizzano’s dedication to helping others who need to plan for their futures has lived on. He gives two seminars monthly throughout Kitsap County that highlight the need for seniors to plan ahead of time how they will physically and financially care for themselves as they age.
“There’s a hurdle people have to get over,” he said. “And that’s coming in the door, whether it’s here for a private conversation or just attending a seminar. It’s natural. Nobody wants to think about getting older. But they need to.”
He tells a story about a man who came into his office a few years ago and asked what he should do about long-term care for his wife.
“He told me his wife had been in nursing care for four years and he was out of money,” Tizzano said. “I was overcome with a mixture of sadness and anger.”
What he wanted to tell the man was, “Why didn’t you come to me before? I could have saved you all the money you’ve spent.”
The reality is, he said, in situations like that, the law allows a transfer of assets to a spouse which, in turn, allows the spouse that needs nursing care to have it covered by Medicare or Medicaid, depending on their age.
“The rules are set up so that the well spouse doesn’t become destitute,” he said.
The most common concern he sees from elder clients is how can they get long term nursing care if needed and still preserve their assets.
“Usually there is a way,” he said. “You have to sit down and make plans ahead of time to avoid making costly mistakes.”
That means looking at your long-term care plans and what it will cost, your assets and how they can be protected, and what your final directives will be including the cost of burial or cremation.
Tizzano knows that many people put off that discussion.
“Most people spend more time and money planning a vacation than they ever do making a detailed estate plan that can potentially save them thousands of dollars — or even tens of thousands of dollars if there’s nursing care involved.”
A starting place is to attend one of his seminars. He’s also speaking at the Older Americans Conference this spring.
Next, he said, invest in an hour or two of time with someone like himself, a lawyer who can help a senior through the legal work.
“For a single person, it might cost about $500,” he said. “For a couple, maybe $1,200. And to create a trust to shelter assets, it would run about $2,500.”
Generally, he asks his senior clients what their wishes are and helps them establish a sustainable plan. But, he said, the problem is that no one knows just how long they’ll live or if they will have health problems. So there has to be a Plan B.
“We talk about the options and ‘what ifs,’” he said. “And we look at what benefits they have that they may have overlooked like VA benefits or Medicaid.”
After a plan is made, he then invites the clients’ children or family in to hear about the plan.
“In some cases, the plans give the authority to children or family members to enact the things that may be needed,” he said. “So everyone needs to know upfront what’s wanted so that the kids or caretakers will follow that.”
His office also offers a publication titled Aging Options, which is specific to the local area and spells out all of the things to be considered when making a life plan.
As a former minister, Tizzano has always cared for people and had a desire to help them.
“My mother suffered a stroke when I was 12,” he said. “I learned compassion from that. She was in a wheelchair and paralyzed on the right side. I remember she’d be in the kitchen telling me how to cook things. That’s where I learned to cook.”
Helping others and being kind is his way of living. He and his wife, Gloria, have six children, five of them still at home.
“When it comes to estate and life care planning, most people are just looking for an on-ramp,” he said. “They’re desperate for information.”