With a growing population of people 65 and older, the Columbus area has gained a second legal firm specializing in elder law and estate planning.
Michelle Findley, who spent the past two years as an associate attorney with the elder law firm of Voelz, Reed & Mount, recently launched her own practice, Findley Law.
From 2010 to 2020, the number of Bartholomew County residents aged 65 and older grew from 10,731 to 14,254, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. That’s an increase of 33 percent compared to an overall population rise of 10 percent.
“There is a great need for seniors and their families to receive knowledgeable, personal advice,” Findley said. “An elder law attorney is a key component to helping families navigate the challenges and complexities of aging.”
Early on, Findley — a business management major in her undergraduate work at Purdue University — thought she would pursue a career in business law once she completed her law degree. But her career path took a turn due to experience she gained in elder law as a part-time law clerk with Stevens & Associates in Indianapolis while attending the Indiana University School of Law.
Good with numbers, Findley learned that some areas of elder law — such as Medicaid qualification planning — are number-driven, the Avon native said.
“I just found the type of work rewarding,” said Findley, who lives in Columbus.
“When we hired her, she told me — still in law school, and no full-time job lined up — she wanted to do trust and estate,” said Tim Staggs, principal attorney with Arnholt & Staggs Law Office in Columbus. “It’s the type of practice area people (typically) fall into, not plan to go into.”
Arnholt and Staggs specialize in Social Security disability and bankruptcy cases, and Staggs hired Findley for a part-time role to write pre-hearing briefs in disability matters.
But in three full-time positions since graduating from law school eight years ago, elder law has been her specialty and is also the focus of her Findley Law practice.
Findley’s ability to connect with people stems from being a genuinely nice person, said Staggs, an attorney for 16 years.
“When it comes to doing what she does, people are very nervous … figuring out the plan and wondering if they’re doing the right thing,” he said. “She brings kindness and trust to the table, a natural gift.”
Staggs said Findley is not only good with people, but is exceptionally smart.
“I believe that God gives us all certain gifts, talents and skills and that He calls us to work hard and use those gifts and opportunities to the best of our ability,” Findley said.
“It has been a desire of mine to work to my fullest potential and in an ownership/leadership role. Starting my own practice, I have very much enjoyed the opportunity and flexibility to create and develop the firm from the ground up,” she said.
Bill Dillon, an attorney with the North Vernon law firm of Dove & Dillon, knows Findley will be successful in that regard, using 25 years of first-hand observations as the basis for his opinion.
The two met as members of the Avon Community Swim Team, when Michelle Heeger (as she was known then) was 9 years old and Dillon was 16. Then about six years later, Dillon coached Heeger on the Avon High School swim team while he was attending law school.
Both excellent swimmers, Heeger had become a state champion at age 10 and Dillon did the same at age 14.
“Michelle was good right out of the gate,” Dillon said of her swimming skills.
But as a high school student she was also extremely intelligent and mature, quizzing her coach about the legal profession during down times of swimming practices, he said.
Academically, Findley earned a 3.96 grade-point average in high school, 4.0 in college and 3.397 in law school.
“She’s pretty focused,” said Dillon, a criminal defense and family law attorney of 15 years. “If she decides to do something, she’s going to do it and do it well.”
The two, who have remained friends since their youth, met over lunch and talked several times over the phone as Findley looked for advice on starting and operating her own business.
“I’ve always looked up to him and he is one of the reasons I chose the legal profession,” Findley said of Dillon.
Findley and her future husband also met through the Avon Community Swim Team, where he was a coach while student-teaching for the Center Grove Community School Corp.
Married for 11 years, they moved to Columbus in 2012 when Brett Findley was hired as principal at Columbus Signature Academy — Lincoln Elementary School.
With her father a physician in Plainfield and her mother a retired nurse, she is the first in her family to practice law. She has used her elder law knowledge to help other family members — such as husband Brett Findley’s grandparents as they navigated nursing home care.
“That allowed me to see it from the family’s point of view,” she said. “People need someone they can trust because it is such a delicate time for the family. It’s my goal to treat my clients just as I would members of my own family.”
The Findleys — parents of Calvin, 6, and Audrey, 3 — lost a third child in March, 15 weeks into Michelle’s pregnancy.
“That has certainly shaped my perspective and desire to make the most of life,” she said.
As owner of what she describes as a boutique law practice, Findley vows to commit more one-on-one time with clients in Bartholomew and adjoining counties to learn about them and their needs, then provide accurate, pertinent information to help them make important life decisions.
Elder law attorneys can help educate the public on ways to protect their assets and create plans to help them achieve their personal goals. Meeting with an elder law attorney can often increase someone’s peace of mind while considering life-stage options, she said.
Findley Law’s services include helping clients prepare a will, establish a health care advance directive and designate a power of attorney.
Some plans can be developed five years in advance, while others can be completed as they are needed, she said.
“It’s never too soon and never too late” to get started, Findley said.