What Is Elder Law?
According to the US Census Bureau, more than 51 million Americans are currently aged 65 or older, and the number is steadily increasing while medical and technological advancements are allowing seniors to live longer and better lives than ever before. The expanding needs of the US aging population are contributing to an increase in federal government senior assistance programs complexity and availability. Every senior has a unique set of circumstances that set parameters to navigate a successful aging plan, and the best way to determine what your plan should be is to retain the counsel of an elder law attorney.
How can an elder law attorney assist you? An elder law attorney provides overarching coordination for the financial, legal and health care decisions that seniors face. Finding and paying for long term care is something that many seniors and their family members fail to plan for, which can result in running out of money or not being able to secure appropriate care. Seniors or their families should seek legal assistance well before there is a need for long-term care of a loved one to plan for what type of long term care is desired and how it will be paid for. While an elder law attorney cannot be a specialist in all facets of a seniors plan for aging, they work in conjunction with other specialists when specific expertise is required.
Elder law attorneys can facilitate the establishment of a medical power of attorney, advanced health care directives in the case of dementia, or aiding in the selection process of the right long-term care facility and assisting in structuring the financial resources that cover the cost of that care. Those resources may include maintaining eligibility for Medicaid or Veterans’ benefits while protecting the senior's assets for themselves and their legacy.
Elder law attorneys often assist with guardianships if a senior is no longer capable of making responsible and informed decisions regarding their health, living, and financial affairs, and no one has been designated to do so. Guardianships are normally a last resort, as they are costly, require court involvement for the lifetime of the incapacitated person, and a stranger could be appointed to oversee the incapacitated person’s finances. Ideally, a senior will have proper legal documents in place to avoid a guardianship, but unfortunately this isn’t always the case.
A properly drafted estate or long term care plan can help avoid a guardianship, as the estate planning documents make sure there are proper agents named to handle financial and medical decisions in the event you or a loved one can no longer make those decisions. A properly drafted estate or long term care plan will also address how long term care will be paid for, and whether assistance with government benefits is necessary.
Identifying the right elder law attorney is essential for a senior, their future, and the future of their legacy. Typical questions to consider include: how long the attorney has specifically practiced elder law, if they have a particular specialty such as veteran’s benefits, Medicaid, estate planning or probate expertise. You should also seek an elder law attorney whose practice is dedicated to elder law as this area of law is often changing and it is important to have an attorney who is on top of the latest rule changes.
Selecting the right elder law attorney for your personal needs or those of a loved one will make a significant impact on your plan for successful aging. Start well in advance of the time you or your family anticipates the need for your long-term care. If we can help you or a loved one with your elder law needs, please don’t hesitate to reach out. And if we are outside of your service area, please contact an experienced Elder Law Attorney (preferably one that is Board Certified in Elder Law) to assist you.
Jason A. Penrod is only the 20th attorney to be Board Certified as an Elder Law Expert by the Florida Bar and the National Elder Law Foundation. He is the founder of Family Elder Law (www.familyelderlaw.com) which has offices in Lakeland, Lake Wales, and Sebring, Florida.