By Jeff Bell, Staff reporter – Business First
Cooper Adel & Associates LPA, founded in the village nearly 20 years ago by attorney Thom Cooper, recently opened its fourth Ohio office and is looking to expand into the northeast part of the state and possibly Indiana.
It’s part of the firm’s plan to get closer to small-town folks in need of elder law services. Among them are farmers, Main Street business owners and other seniors trying to minimize their taxes, avoid probate and protect their assets from potential financial losses such as those caused by a catastrophic illness. Cooper Adel’s seven attorneys move across the firm’s four offices – Centerburg, Lebanon, Sidney and the new one in Wilmington in southwest Ohio – as their services are needed rather than working out of just one location.
“It’s important they be there to visit with the client,” Cooper said, noting the firm pulls in seniors from across much of the state.
The attorneys help clients plan for taxes and nursing-home stays, qualify for veteran’s benefits and set up trusts.
“We focus not only on estate planning,” he said, “but life planning.”
Leading an elder law firm with 35 employees and four offices wasn’t exactly the plan in the early 1980s when Cooper decided to go to Capital University Law School. At that time, he owned a business in Columbus that provided outsourcing services to stategovernments.
“I wanted to do something to work directly with people,” he said, “and the law seemed like a good area for that.”
After earning his law degree, Cooper started doing title work for a banker in Centerburg. His practice evolved from there as Cooper, moved by financial problems he had seen hurt older people, including his own family, decided to develop a specialty in elder law.
“For awhile,” he said, “it was about just keeping my head down. But I found there is such a need, and it just kind of happened.”
One of the developments in his firm’s growth was the hiring in 2005 of Mitch Adel, a Capital Law School graduate who was working as a criminal defense attorney in the Franklin County public defender’s office. Cooper made him a partner in 2009, and Adel now serves as the firm’s managing partner.
Adel said he decided to get into elder law in part because his grandfather told him it was an emerging field. He also waslooking for a change from the work he was doing.
“I didn’t see many smiles there,” Adel said. “It was a more difficult type of law – crime and jail. I see elder law as ‘happy law.’ You’re protecting people’s farms and houses.”
Squeezed by taxes, health care
Adel and Cooper said their practice ranges from working with the wealthy and farmers who are “asset rich but cash poor” to middle-class seniors wanting to leave something in their estates for their children.
“One of the things that separates us from the pack,” Adel said, “is we work with family. It’s not just mom and dad, but bringing in the children so everyone knows the plan.”
Changing tax laws and soaring health-care costs have increased the need for the help offered by the firm.
“Taxes are squeezing our clients,” Adel said, “and catastrophic health-care (bills) squeeze them. We help them make sure they keep their assets.”
And, the recession resulted in more liens being placed on homes and farms, Cooper said.
“That has become huge,” he said, “because it affects people at their core.”