How do you know when a business is truly stellar?
When it has long-term employees who are diehard fans. Listen to Toni O’Brien’s podcast to learn more about what we do for seniors in our community and how her skills as a Certified Mediator might be just what your family needs.
Check it out by clicking the link above or reading below!
Jonathan Leeper: Hello, and welcome to the First Friday Network Podcast. My name is Jonathan Leeper and, and my guest today is Toni O’Brien of The Law Offices Of Carol Bertsch. Toni O’Brien is the treasurer for the First Friday Network. And she’s been doing a phenomenal job. Thank you for being here, Toni.
Toni O’Brien: Oh, it’s such a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.
Jonathan Leeper: Of course. So, I’m so excited that you’re here because I get to learn about The Law Offices of Carol Bertsch. Just to start things off, how did you come to serve seniors and be a part of this community?
Toni O’Brien: Well, it’s kind of started years ago, back when I was still in the title industry, I had a part ownership in several title companies up in Alaska and Washington state. And when I was living in Alaska, my parents were there and my corporate office bought a title company in the San Juan Islands in Washington state, which are gorgeous.
Toni O’Brien: And my parents wanted to come with me. So I brought my parents with me to the Islands, and that became a 14 year journey of taking care of my parents.
Jonathan Leeper: Wow.
Toni O’Brien: My mom and dad lived on the Island until they couldn’t because there was only a clinic there, there wasn’t a hospital and their health demanded more immediate attention. And so, we moved them off the Island, close to where I lived just a ferry trip away. And then my mom, after five years passed away, she got lung cancer. And so, my dad did not want to be in a cold winter anymore. So, we packed him up. He was 89, and we packed up and moved to Texas. He had never been here.
Jonathan Leeper: Why Texas?
Toni O’Brien: Well for a long, long time before that, I had been in the missionary field and I really felt like I wanted to go back into that field – but to travel, you must have a residence. And so, Texas was the least expensive without being ridiculous. And San Antonio particularly is so beautiful, so family oriented. And so, we thought this would be a great place. We moved down here. My mom and dad had been married 64 years, so – I really didn’t know how long my dad was going to go- but he hung on for another nine years. He had Alzheimer’s and I took care of him the whole time and out of that, I started working in law firms when I got down here. And when I worked with Charlie Weisinger – we worked with special needs, but we dealt not so much with the elderly, but just all special needs across the spectrum. I went through several other jobs before I found Carol or Carol found me, however that is. I started work the week after my father died. And so, the first thing I did for working was probate my father’s estate, which was just a crazy, crazy time. And, Carol, I think when we met, there was just something about her that is so different. She is a compassionate person. She’s really, really funny. She’s got a great sense of humor. She has lots of opinions but isn’t insistent that you share them. And she loves what she does. I mean, truly loves what she does. She loves working with the elderly and I think it was such a natural fit after having taken care of my parents and to hear the phone calls, we get phone calls every day and people are in similar situations where you cross that weird line, where you start to become a parent to your parent and you have to help them maintain a sense of independence – knowing that they don’t have any more independence. Carol was just so gracious about helping me take what I had learned in those 14 years and applying it to the business.
Jonathan Leeper: Yeah. Wow.
Toni O’Brien: And so that’s what makes her special. She truly loves what she does, and she’s been doing it – I think we’re at, 25, 27 years. Where we’re specialized in this – We don’t do anything else. We do Medicaid qualification. So, we help people get qualified for Medicaid. There are so many little things that you can do. Lots of people think that they can’t qualify because they have too much income or there’s too many resources, but we can get you there. That’s just a process and there’s things that we must do to make it happen, but it’s possible. So, working with people in crisis like that, because, you know, they come to us and their world is turned upside down. They’ve saved their whole life for their retirement and then one or the other gets sick and they’re seeing all that they saved for, all that they worked for dissipating. And their concern is that the remaining spouse would be indigent when it’s all over. So, we do the very best that we can to make sure that doesn’t happen. And we see people hurting and scared and completely confused by the system because Medicaid is not an easy thing to navigate. It’s a beast and they come to us, and they just don’t think there’s no hope. And somehow, or another when they leave, they’re filled with hope.
Jonathan Leeper: Good.
Toni O’Brien: It’s just a gift every day to be able to impact people’s lives and see the impact right away.
Jonathan Leeper: Definitely. I can see that because if you’re to the point to where you’re like, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to proceed. I don’t know how this is going to work. And then you’re like, oh, okay, we have solutions. We have ways. There’s a lot of different ways that we can do this. That is fantastic. So you all help people qualify for Medicaid? What else do you all do?
Toni O’Brien: We do estate planning.
Jonathan Leeper: Okay.
Toni O’Brien: We do it a little bit differently because we are always with an eye towards Medicaid at some point in their lives. Because we deal with elderly, mostly. We expand on the power of attorney, and we do things in the will that may be a little bit different. We’re not so worried about making sure that the kids have stuff. We want to make sure that mom and dad have what they need for the duration of their life. And so, we plan a little bit differently. We do probate, obviously. That’s part of the process, and then we do guardianship on a limited basis guardianship. Especially when we need to get guardianship so that we can get somebody to help qualify them for Medicaid. Someone to get access to their information. So really, the crux of our practice is elderly. Although we do a lot with special needs because many times people with disabilities are on Medicaid and they inherit things and they don’t want to get booted off the benefits because, you know, you may inherit a fair amount of money, but it’s not going to last very long if you were in a facility, and you have to private pay. So, we want to make sure that we preserve what we can of what they have.
Jonathan Leeper: That’s so great. Wow. That’s so fantastic. That’s so good to know, and to have you as a resource, for people that need it. That’s amazing. You might’ve touched on this before, but what makes the law offices of Carol Bertsch different than other kind of law offices?
Toni O’Brien: The main thing is Carol – because she’s just so compassionate and just has a way about her that calms the situation. We have a new associate Brennan Bose, he’s just started with us. He is as amazing (as Carol). He’s just kind and gentle and it just oozes out of them both. And so, our clients always feel that they’re being taken care of, that they’re being paid attention to, which is vital. I know a lot of firms, especially in estate planning, that tend to limit their client contact and we don’t. We want them to stay in touch with us. The staff is trained to really talk to our clients. We just don’t push a button and put them on hold and make an appointment. We talk to them and figure out what’s going on and give them at the very beginning a sense that we can fix this for them – that this is not a situation that can’t be solved. There are always solutions, one way or another there’s some solution. And so, the staff is, because we know that it comes from the top down – If the top is compassionate, then the staff follows that lead. And I think our staff is amazing, really, truly amazing.
Jonathan Leeper: That’s so important to be able to continue what you want with the mission and what you want to serve and how you want to serve and how to communicate with people who need it.
Toni O’Brien: And too, part of the reason we have such great staff is because Carol is such a great boss – she’s very generous with her staff. She makes sure that we’re comfortable, that we are happy, that we have the resources that we need to do our jobs. She’s not stingy. She understands that we all have lives and that we need to live them. But we need to live them in such a way that we’re not struggling, because if we’re struggling at home, we will be struggling at work.
Jonathan Leeper: Yep. Yeah.
Toni O’Brien: So, she’s very wise about how she approaches her staff. She, for me, one of the most generous things she’s done is she knows my background as a pastor, that my skills are pastoral. And we have talked a lot over the years about what am I going to do? Am I going to retire? And so, she and I came up with an idea to start to add to the practice mediation. So, I went through the mediation training and was able to get my certifications, both for general mediation and for family law. So, we’re opening that up as part of the practice. What we’ve noticed is probate and sickness in the family bring out the very best or the very worst. There doesn’t seem to be a middle line. And when it’s the worst – what we’re seeing is that maybe if they could sit down with someone who was neutral and help the family come to an agreement on how they’re going to approach their care for their loved ones. Instead of, you know, sister being mad at brother because brother wants to take over on the finances and all that stuff. They need to come to an agreement on who’s going to do what. They’ll have it all written down in a contract form, a settlement agreement – so that they’re working together. And division is not on that person’s mind.
Jonathan Leeper: Yeah, it’s not affecting their loved one who needs help.
Toni O’Brien: Right. Right. And so, we want to really kind of put the mediation focus on preventing division in the family around probate or sickness in the family.
Jonathan Leeper: I’ve seen that a couple of times with people that I’ve worked with – I’ve seen where the brothers and sisters, they will go at each other’s throats for a POA. Just to be the POA so that they can have a say in what and how much money is to be passed down. Sometimes there’s a family member who says, you know, “I deserve it. I should be in charge so I can determine how much money they’re spending on stuff.” And that gets very awkward, uncomfortable, and there needs to be a mediator. Approaching it in a way where it’s like, “All right, let’s find out how to make sure that we’re coordinating everyone’s efforts and putting everyone in your family in the best position to be able to take care of your loved one.” Because that’s the most important thing.
Toni O’Brien: It is, and the stress, mostly, I think is on moms – you know, when kids are fighting moms get nervous and they get very upset. And so, the tendency we see in the elderly moms are that they just kind of acquiesce to whomever is speaking. So, then there’s this – sister hears, yes mom wants me to do it, but brother heard the same thing because mom’s not standing up for herself or doesn’t want to create division. But we see the division. So, we want to be in a place where we can sit the family down and say, “You know, for mom’s (or dad’s) sake, we need to come to an agreement so that their health road is not hindered by this problem. This can’t be an issue because she’s got enough things to deal with. I think that approach is a little bit different than most mediation. Because most mediation often waits until you’re at the point of litigation. And we don’t want to get to that point if we can avoid it.
Jonathan Leeper: Yeah. That’s fantastic. And I really appreciate you being on the board so that you can help mediate our board meetings. (laughing).
Toni O’Brien: I love First Friday. I joined it in 2009. I think that was the first time I attended a First Friday meeting.
Jonathan Leeper: Wow.
Toni O’Brien: I went there when I was working for Matt Spahn, it was a crazy meeting. There were so many people and I thought, oh my goodness, I don’t know that I can do this, but over the years, I missed it. And then when I was able to come back, when I went to work for Carol, it was pretty much the same way. But there’s so much unity in the core group. At First Friday, there’s so much compassion. There’s so much mercy and generosity – the people in this field, in caring for seniors, there’s just something different about them that you don’t find in any other field really. It’s more of a mission as opposed to a job and for people who come into it as a job, they’re quickly weeded out because it’s too hard to do as a job. You must have a heart for it. And so, being around people with kind hearts – that’s awesome.
Jonathan Leeper: Yeah. In my years of working within this industry, I’ve seen a whole lot of personality similarities, and thank you so much for sharing so much about this. And what you do, I love it because you can tell by the way you speak, and by the way you speak about Carol, what kind of heart you all have. That you all are in the right place of doing the right thing for people who need help and helping coordinate. What type of person would people refer to you, or to the law offices of Carol Bertsch?
Toni O’Brien: Well, the most obvious is to refer someone who’s just on the edge or at the point of needing a Medicaid assistance, either in-home care, which is the star plus waiver program or actual nursing care. Those are the very biggest part of our practice – getting people in a position to qualify. Of course, if you have a loved one who has passed probate, most people don’t know this, but having a will is not enough. You have to take it to court and have it proved up. And it has to be admitted into court and you have to be appointed executor, just because the will names you executor doesn’t mean you’re it – the court has to say it’s so.
Jonathan Leeper: Hmm. Wow.
Toni O’Brien: And so, if that doesn’t happen within a four-year period, it becomes a problem because the court doesn’t recognize the will anymore. There are some exceptions to that, but mostly it doesn’t happen. So, after four years, then it goes back to whatever the state says, how you get property divided. And that becomes a problem, especially in blended marriages because the state divides it differently than you would think. So, we do a lot of probate issues, as well as estate planning for any age.
Jonathan Leeper: Yeah. Okay.
Toni O’Brien: We really love working with the elderly because their stories are so awesome. I mean, you just hear the best stories. But for another thing, we’re really looking to preserve their assets for them so that when the crisis comes, they’re prepared.
Toni O’Brien: And Lady Bird deeds are great –
Jonathan Leeper: What’s a Lady Bird deed?
Toni O’Brien: Well, it’s an enhanced life estate deed. And it helps preserve against Medicaid estate recovery. Because if you go on Medicaid, Medicaid wants its money back. So, after the person passes away, they’ll file a claim. And if your assets aren’t protected, then they have a right to claim against the assets. So, if you do an enhanced life estate deed, Medicaid doesn’t count that as a transfer of interest, but they also know that at point of death, that asset is no longer part of the estate. So they can’t touch that asset.
Jonathan Leeper: Oh. Wow. Yeah.
Toni O’Brien: Yeah. So, it’s, it’s a wonderful safety measure. We do a fair amount of them. We do all those sorts of things. We do a lot of heirship affidavits for people who did not probate in time, or don’t have a will – that’s the crux of our practice. And then guardianships, of course.
Jonathan Leeper: Okay.
Toni O’Brien: Yeah. But what we are really trying to build is the mediation. So if you have a family that is divided over how best to take care of their loved ones, or even if you have a neighborly dispute – there’s been disputes over where the fence is that had to be mediated, you know, who’s paying for the fence or anything like that, where it’s close to the point of breaking down the friendship or breaking down the neighborly relationship, or breaking down the family, anything like that, if you could send them to us so that we can bring them to a solution. The beauty of mediation is that the mediator doesn’t make the decision. Doesn’t make the judgment. The two sides come to their own conclusions and agree to it. We are just a neutral third party that kind of guides them in terms of what’s practical and maybe what’s not.
Jonathan Leeper: Yeah.
Toni O’Brien: But we don’t have an opinion and we don’t have any vested interest in the outcome – as opposed to litigation where the judge makes the decision. Well, with the mediator, you’re making the decision. So, you’re more likely to follow through on it, but also live it out – because it was something you agreed to.
Jonathan Leeper: Yeah. And be happy with the result, because you might have to concede in some area or the other, but it’s going to be better than someone else, (a judge) deciding for you.
Toni O’Brien: Right.
Jonathan Leeper: And deciding based on what’s on paper rather than what you can agree upon through your family.
Toni O’Brien: Right.
Jonathan Leeper: Yeah. That’s fantastic.
Toni O’Brien: Yeah. So those are the kinds of referrals that we’re looking for.
Jonathan Leeper: Okay. That’s great to know. What is the best way to get a hold of, or find out more information about the law offices of Carol Bertsch?
Toni O’Brien: We have an awesome website. It’s www.assistingseniors.com. It has all our stories and all of us are introduced on there and it gives a good list of our areas of practice. It has some great resources on there. It’s a good place to go if you want to know a little bit more about us. Call us at any time, someone answers the phone. We do not have an answering system. Someone always picks up the phone – but if they don’t, we will make the call back. There’s always somebody that will be there for you. Or you can email us. email@example.com – that comes directly to my mailbox. Also, our phone number is 210-892-4555.
Jonathan Leeper: Okay.
Toni O’Brien: And just give us a call. We are in the process of moving. So, we are always available, but at one building we’re going to be at and then viola, we’re going to be at another building hopefully soon.
Jonathan Leeper: Like magic.
Toni O’Brien: Yeah, (laughs).
Jonathan Leeper: One minute one place, another minute another place.
Toni O’Brien: That’s right. That’s right. So, we’re kind of in the in-between where this day you can come to this office and this day you’ll be at the other office, but that’s just part of the fun.
Jonathan Leeper: Yeah.
Jonathan Leeper: For sure. Yeah. It keeps things interesting.
Toni O’Brien: Yes it does.
Jonathan Leeper: Little changes over the years, so, okay. All right. Let’s, let’s move. (laughs)
Toni O’Brien: That’s right. (laughs) That’s right. It’s a beautiful building. So it will be worth, worth the effort.
Jonathan Leeper: That’s fantastic. We really do appreciate you being on First Friday. Your energy, and just who you are, is a good representation of the Friday Network and the people that we love to have on the board and the people that we love to have in our membership. So, thank you for donating your time to First Friday and being our treasurer and keeping us on point. And I just can’t thank you enough for everything that you’ve done. One thing that the board has done for myself at least is the support that I have from them. So, whenever I’ve needed something, or whenever I’ve needed to talk about things, I’ve called you and I’ve called Charlie, and I’ve called the board to talk about things and to really get a good perspective from someone who has a lot of great experience in communication and mediation.
So that’s just all part of the communication realm of, just being able to trust someone and getting great information. So thank you for everything you’ve done. And is there anything else you would like to tell us about, do you have anything special going on, or is there anything that you would just like to say for anybody listening either about Carol Bertsch or about yourself?
Toni O’Brien: I think what I would say is first – if you’re looking for someone who has extraordinary compassion, then you’d want to talk to Carol and Brennan. Brennan is he’s amazing. He is such a find.
Jonathan Leeper: Who’s Brennan?
Toni O’Brien: Brennan Bose is our associate attorney. He’s awesome. He came down from Houston, actually. His background was litigation, but his heart is not to litigate.
Jonathan Leeper: (laughs).
Toni O’Brien: His heart is really to serve. And it’s just been a great time with him. He’s picking up on the business very quickly. He knows what he’s doing and is very bright.
So, compassion, if you need it, we are the place to find it. And I think as far as First Friday, if you are listening to this and have not decided about whether to join, the membership cost is minimal, $35 for a year. But the fellowship is full of the most amazing people that really have a heart to serve. You don’t find that in a lot of networks. I have been in a lot of networking groups, and this is a group that really has heart and genuinely cares about what they do and about serving the senior community. And if you’re on the fence, just come to a meeting and see what it’s all about, because you will be impressed. We are networking with people that we want to know more about so that we can refer to them because we trust them. It’s just an extraordinary opportunity. And I also want to thank you for allowing me to be on the board and for the support the board has given me. And it has been interesting being treasurer. We went from doing it manually into doing it through a software program. And so that has been a little bit of a change, but the board has always been behind every decision, and I am just so grateful and so honored.
Jonathan Leeper: Well, thank you. We’re grateful and honored that you’re a part of us. (laughing). And thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate you coming to do the podcast and I’m glad that we get to put out information about our board members and your business and just another way to serve our community. I can tell you, I don’t know about every service that’s out there for every situation and what First Friday does for me is it just gives me a swath of people to where pretty much, no matter what type of situation someone’s in – I can say, oh, this person would be perfect for that. Oh, this person would be perfect for that. And that’s what this whole networking group is for. It’s about developing the relationships with people that you can trust so that whenever someone has a certain situation that fits that need for your business – that’s when we say, okay, I know who to call.
Thank you so much for clarifying everything that you do and all the ways that you all are helping people. And I love the fact that you and Carol are in this community and I’m excited for the future.
Toni O’Brien: Thank you.
Jonathan Leeper: This will conclude our podcast if you’re still on here. Thank you so much for listening. And, uh, I will see you at the next meeting. Thank you.