Elder law attorneys specialize in providing legal services to elderly people, veterans, and adults with special needs. The elder law specialization has only been around for about twenty-five years and was born out of necessity. With life expectancy increasing, people are dealing with rising health care costs and increase in debilitating diseases like dementia, among many issues that affect the aging members of our society. Elder law attorneys help clients deal with those issues, in addition to traditional estate planning concerns. The services of elder law attorneys can be grouped into five main categories:
1. Helping clients age with dignity
Most elder law attorneys are drawn to the profession because they want to help elders maintain as much dignity, autonomy, and independence as possible as they age. For clients that plan ahead, attorneys can work with financial planners and insurance agents to make a financial plan to pay for long-term care. For clients already in a care crisis, attorneys can help clients access government benefits (such as Medicaid and Veteran’s benefits).
Elder law attorneys also help clients create documents that help families take care of clients if they become disabled. As appropriate for your situation, these documents may include the Power of Attorney, Healthcare Power of Attorney, Medical Information Release, Living Will, and Funeral Declarations. Having these documents in place makes it easy for families to care for their loved ones in a time of crisis.
2. Traditional Estate Planning
Elder law attorneys also perform traditional estate planning services, including the writing of wills and trusts. If you think you might need to access government benefits in the future, you should consider using an elder law attorney instead of a traditional estate planning attorney. Why? Because an elder law attorney can evaluate your assets and estate-planning goals in light of your potential long-term care needs and recommend certain types of trusts that allow you to qualify for benefits while preserving some or all of your assets for your heirs.
In addition to documents, elder law attorneys will provide you with other valuable estate planning advice. We will discuss many issues beyond just document preparation, including how to name beneficiaries on your accounts and insurance policies, how to handle digital assets, whether you would benefit from making financial gifts to family members during your life, and whether you should consider transferring real estate during your lifetime.
Guardianship is a process by which a court determines that a person (called a “ward”) is incompetent to handle his/her affairs and appoints a competent person (a “guardian”) to handle them. A court can name a guardian of the person (to make healthcare and lifestyle decisions), of the estate (to handle financial and legal affairs), or both.
Elder law attorneys help clients and their families avoid guardianship where possible, but we can help your family through that process if there is no better alternative.
4. Probate and Trust Administration
After a loved one dies, most families will need help with administering his/her estate. Depending on the type of estate plan used, this might involved helping families administer a trust, probate a will and follow laws related to estate administration, open an estate where there was no will, or follow a simplified procedure for estates of $50,000 or less. An elder law attorney can help you figure out which path you must take and then guide you through the process.
5. Protection of the Elderly Client
Unfortunately, we have seen some very tragic cases of elder abuse (both physical and financial) in our office. In some cases, an elder with the early stages of dementia falls for a financial scam through the encouragement of a stranger. In others, a trusted friend or family takes advantage of a vulnerable senior. No matter the situation, an elder law attorney can help you figure out how to prevent and/or end fraud and abuse.
If you or a loved one needs help in any of these areas, please reach out for a consultation in our office. We want to hear your story and figure out how we can help you.