In recent years, a new area of law has emerged, that many are calling “Elder Law”. Unfortunately, not many people know what elder law is. Attorneys who practice in the area of elder law focus on the legal needs of the elderly, and work with a variety of legal tools and techniques to meet the goals and objectives of the older client.
Elder law attorneys handle general estate planning issues and counsel clients about planning for incapacity with alternative decision making documents. I also help clients in planning for possible long-term care needs, including nursing home care. Locating the appropriate type of care, coordinating private and public resources to finance the cost of care, and working to ensure the client’s right to quality care are all part of the elder law practice.
Elder law has become an important area of law. One in two Americans will suffer a disability during their lifetime, requiring the appointment of someone to manage their financial affairs and make health care decisions. Additionally, 40 percent of Americans over the age of 60 will face admission into an assisted living facility or nursing home. Proactive planning can make this situation more manageable and less costly, as well as help preserve autonomy and privacy. Lack of planning, on the other hand, can result in unnecessary court intervention, increased costs and negative tax consequences, as well as greater loss of autonomy and reduced privacy.
Why and When You May Need an Elder Law Attorney
Elder Law Attorneys have been specially trained to set up effective plans to deal with disability before it strikes and to help soften the blow when it comes. Elder Law attorneys are able to offer insight and services not found in traditional law firms. Estate lawyers typically focus on death-time planning, such as distributing assets to heirs through a will or living trust and taxes. Elder law attorneys, on the other hand, address not only these needs but also needs before death, preparing for periods of serious illness or incapacity. While a portion of my practice is traditional estate planning, a growing percentage of the clients I see each week come to me with elder law issues.
Elder law recognizes that people are living longer with chronic illnesses and will face periods of either short-term or long-term incapacity. These chronic illnesses cause impairments that result in long-term care expenses and loss of independence. Elder law attorneys help senior citizens preserve their independence, avoid impoverishment and implement their desire to pass their estate to loved ones.
Without proper planning, incapacity can very often mean guardianship. When a court guardianship is imposed, the individual judged to be incapacitated loses autonomy. The procedure can be expensive, frustrating and time-consuming. Elder law attorneys provide assistance to avoid guardianships and are able to consult with you to create an effective and comprehensive incapacity plan. It may include drafting new wills with special provisions, powers of attorney, health care powers of attorney, or consulting on how to pay for the devastating cost of nursing homes, through Medicaid and Veterans benefits planning.
Mark Albertson is an Elder Law/Estate Planning Attorney with the Kent Law Firm of Hanis Irvine Prothero, PLLC. Mark offers articles and free online video workshops on his LawBlog at www.markalbertson.com.