What is elder law?
It is a question we hear often. What is elder law? And what does an elder lawyer do?
The term “elder law” encompasses many areas of law. As the elder population has quickly grown, more and more attorneys have identified specific legal issues that these individuals commonly face. Generally speaking, an elder law attorney provides advice and guidance in this variety of areas, which may include:
- estate planning (i.e. execution of wills and trusts) for management during life and after death
- trust administration and probate
- powers of attorney
- elder abuse and fraud
- advance directives for healthcare
- guardianship and conservatorship
- planning for incapacity and long term care
- health care and mental health
- nursing homes
- Social Security
- veterans benefits
Some of these areas fall into the financial realm. Who will manage your financial affairs if you become unable, and with what authority will they do so? How can you establish that authority for someone to help manage your finances? What if someone has been abusing that authority? Where do you want your estate to go when you are deceased? Do you need to worry about estate taxes? These questions reflect the type of financial issues that an elder law attorney would typically assist you with.
Another realm is the homeplace. Is it suitable for you? Have mental or physical issues arisen that are not being addressed? Can you navigate physically, and cook and clean for yourself? What are the costs and benefits of moving out of the home into independent senior living or assisted living? What are the differences between the two? If you move, should you sell the home to pay for care?
The third major realm is healthcare. Have you made decisions regarding end of life care, and have you selected someone to communicate those decisions on your behalf if you are not able to? If you need to move into Assisted Living, or into a nursing home, how will you pay for it? Will Medicare pay? Medicaid? What about VA benefits, how does that work?
These questions are extremely common, and they have countless variations. The elder lawyer is the expert who through information and education can guide you through these issues.
Dealing with Change
As one grows older and his or her needs change, there are many questions to be considered and decisions to be made. The process can quickly seem overwhelming. Aging is all about change and change can be scary, especially when there is uncertainty of what lies ahead. An elder law attorney can help by shedding light onto the path. That is, the attorney can clarify the issues and problems you are or will likely be facing, and provide you with the tools you need to plan ahead. And by planning ahead, you can deal with these issues before they become crises. Of course, in some cases things will have already begun spiraling out of control; in these situations, the elder law attorney would use the tools available to help sort things back out.
The questions and decisions ahead will still be difficult ones, and seeing an elder law attorney does not necessarily make them less so. But dealing with issues of aging can be much less overwhelming when you are equipped with the tools and information to deal with potential problems. The attorney can assist by getting the necessary documents in place, providing knowhow regarding care and benefits, and by connecting you with other professionals who serve the elder community.
Hiring an Attorney
When hiring an elder law attorney, you should consider various factors such as the attorney's background and experience in elder law, how long the attorney has been practicing, how much of the attorney's practice involves elder law, and the price of the attorney's services. Before your initial consultation, you should gather lists of major assets and information on how the assets are titled, an overview of monthly income and expenses, as well as documents such as wills, powers of attorney, and important contracts you may have signed which will all help the attorney identify the legal issues which you may face. In order to help you make the appropriate decisions, the attorney should have all of the facts before him (or her). You should also make sure that you know the attorney's fees and have the fee arrangement put in writing.
When it comes to aging, planning ahead is of great importance and an elder law attorney is often one of several professionals who can help you and your family steer the course. From estate planning to healthcare, in addition to preparing legal documents an elder law attorney can help provide the information and resources you will utilize in your decision making. Through your education, the attorney can help you make the best decisions for you and your loved ones as you age.