Promoting harmony

MARQUETTE – Nationally recognized Marquette elder law attorney Robert “Bob” Anderson says maintaining a long-term relationship with clients, along with using tools to increase family harmony, is key for helping those facing the complex challenges of aging and loss.

The firm’s unique strategies for reducing the risk of family disharmony, though not always perfect, earns them “a lot of hugs and thank-yous,” he said.

“We are finding far too many estate plans go up in smoke when the children of the parents will fight each other and be in disharmony after the parental glue is gone,” Anderson said. “It’s a very disheartening thing.”

Anderson said his harmony strategies are the reason he was recently recognized as a featured member in the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys magazine.

According to NAELA’s article, Anderson made his mark on elder law by writing groundbreaking articles – published nationally and by state bars – on tax, ethics, real property, assisted living, premarital planning, living wills and Medicaid.

“I’m so excited and humbled by that experience,” Anderson said. “They do recognize six attorneys every year, and the NAELA organization has about 4,500 attorneys … so it is a great honor. And it’s an honor for our community, because our community was also featured in this national article.”

Anderson has also developed a “client maintenance program” with over 500 clients.

This “continuing-care, relational approach” is beneficial so that when laws, health status or family circumstances change, “the law firm is there to amend the documents and to provide advice all along the way,” he said.

After joining NAELA in 1993, Anderson served four years on its board of directors, started the Michigan NAELA chapter, is a member of NAELA’s Council of Advanced Practitioners, has been a member of NAELA’s News Editorial Board and served as chairman of NAELA’s tax section.

A native to Trenton, Mich., a suburb of Detroit, Anderson, 66, moved to Marquette and started his practice in 1982. Practicing in the Upper Peninsula – where he now has six office locations – was always his hope in order to “come back to nature,” he said.

He earned his juris doctor degree at Michigan State University in 1979, then worked on housing projects for the poor at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s office in Washington, D.C. While there, Anderson earned his masters of laws in taxation from Georgetown University. He started his practice that year in tax law and estate planning, serving the U.P. and northern Wisconsin. He also taught tax law at the Michigan Technological Institute for 10 years, until 1993.

Around 1986, Anderson’s father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. The 11-year battle that ensued would lead him to redirect the nature of his work from tax law to elder care.

“Being confronted with the dementia-related disease of Parkinson’s turns the family upside down,” Anderson said. “The need to assemble public benefits, community resources and personal resources is a huge problem when you try to navigate the Medicare and healthcare system. It requires a great deal of knowledge and a great deal of patience. In my view, there’s a greater need for having elder law to help out when a family’s going through that journey.”

Anderson also serves on the Michigan Bar’s unauthorized practice of law committee where he has been instrumental in fighting scams against seniors and veterans, according to NAELA.

In 2007, Anderson won NAELA’s John Regan Writing Award for his journal article about annuity scams, “Estate Planning with Nonqualified Annuities: Navigating the Labyrinth.”

“There are a lot of scams that are out there that go against the aging population,” Anderson said. “One of them is some annuity companies who come from downstate. … Whenever they give free dinners, they’re trying to actually go to your home and sell you an unneeded annuity. It’s much better to have a good local financial adviser help you with your investments.”

For the array of other phone, mail and internet scams, Anderson recommends assigning a “watchdog,” a trusted child or friend, to be on the aging person’s bank account.

“When our senior citizens even have a slight issue with their memory skills, they can be hammered by some of these scams,” Anderson said. “There is very little recourse against the scams … other than going in to file a police report.”

But Anderson said the thing he is most proud of is raising five children to be good citizens and helping the community.

In addition to helping establish the Marquette low-income shelter, Janzen House, in 1984, Anderson also helped lead the effort to raise $1 million for what eventually was named the Kaufman Sports Complex in Marquette.

He married his wife, Valentyna, formerly of the Ukraine, in 2004. He has three stepchildren, Dariya, 31, Danil, 29, and Valeriya, 26, and two children, Phillip, 29, and Victoria, 16.

His plans for the future include continuing to be a good attorney, and “serving my clients as best as I can,” he said.

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.