What is an Elder Law Attorney and Do I Need One?
PBWS Law Guest Blog for Silver Bills
What is an Elder Law Attorney and Do I Need One?
By Erin E. Wideman, CPA, JD
Pregenzer, Baysinger, Wideman, & Sale, PC
Elder law is a practice area defined by the people whose legal needs are served—senior citizens. It is an area of law which grew out of the need for estate planning attorneys to address legal problems facing older clients and their children. Elder law is a remarkably diverse area of practice. It encompasses issues affecting the lives of the “elderly,” a population which may include anyone from a ninety-five-year-old nursing home resident to a sixty-five year-old tri-athlete or, for one of our firm’s clients, a ninety-four year old Senior Olympian. An elder law attorney must understand and offer advice about Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, guardianship proceedings, estate planning, nursing home care, pension and other retirement plans, elder abuse, family matters (such as the “meddling” child), grandparent visitation, and prenuptial agreements.
Elder law involves planning for retirement, the possibility of disability, incapacity, home health care and/or placement in a nursing home. Elder law attorneys advise clients on how to obtain public benefits, including Medicaid. They prepare sophisticated durable powers of attorney documents to provide legal authority for the client’s designee to act on their behalf in legal and financial planning matters while also assisting in the preparation of health care directives.
Seniors often need protection against creditors, estate tax avoidance, probate avoidance, as well as help planning for long term care needs. In today’s world, the rising cost of long-term care for seniors and aging baby boomers is a legitimate health care crisis that requires a determined advocate fighting for your rights.
Legal Considerations as You Age
- Planning for possible incapacity:
Make sure you have up-to-date durable powers of attorney and advance health care directives; consider long-term care insurance and/or disability insurance; savings
- Planning needs for advanced age vulnerabilities and infirmities:
Loss of friendship networks; far-flung children; spousal age difference considerations; diminished capacity and incapacity; undue influence; fiduciary and physical abuse.
- Choosing Personal Representatives:
How to choose among trusted family and friends, or a corporate fiduciary when nominating personal representatives for your wills; trustees for your trust; agents for health and financial powers of attorney. When there is no one who is able or can be trusted to carry out your wishes, finding a corporate fiduciary to fill these roles.
- Financial Planning and Security:
Providing liquidity for the costs of illness, death and taxes, and, depending on your personal goals and capacity, planning for the future financial needs of loved ones.
When Should I Hire an Elder Law Attorney?
You should consider hiring an elder law attorney if any of the following applies to you:
- You or your loved one is over 55 and interested in estate planning.
- You or your loved one is disabled, incapacitated, or diagnosed with a disability and needs assistance with long term health care planning, Medicaid planning and/or special needs trust planning.
- You or your loved one is a fiduciary and has questions regarding their responsibilities as an agent.
- You want to know your options for public benefits like Medicaid.
What does Medicaid planning involve?
Medicaid planning involves developing a strategy to protect your assets to the extent possible should you require long-term nursing home care. Planning effectively can help you preserve what you spent your life earning.
Do I Need a Durable Power of Attorney?
Do you want to choose who acts on your behalf in the event of a disabling personal event?
Durable powers of attorney allow you to choose an agent to act on your behalf in the case of future incapacity or temporary absence. A durable power of attorney authorizes another person (your agent) to make financial decisions on your behalf. These can include transacting business, transferring real estate, or simply paying bills.
Durable powers of attorney are extremely useful elder law and estate planning tools but must be used wisely. Your agent should always be chosen with care and consideration.
How do I Find an Attorney Qualified to Handle My Elder Law Needs?
When you are looking for an elder law attorney, here are three important things to look for:
- How many years of experience do they have?
- Have they pursued continuing education and/or certifications to hone their expertise and stay abreast of the latest planning techniques and developments in the laws affecting seniors?
- Do they collaborate with other professionals to holistically address the unique needs of each client?
Those needing elder law legal services tend to be among society’s most vulnerable members. Make sure the attorney you choose aspires to a higher level of practice standards to address your unique and complex legal issues. NAELA (National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys) and NELF (National Elder Law Foundation) are highly regarded organizations dedicated to the training and continuing education of attorneys who wish to practice elder law and have search functions on their websites to help you find an elder law attorney in your area.
Find a qualified elder law attorney in your area: