An elder law attorney is a lawyer who specializes in providing legal services for elderly and disabled individuals. Their services help ensure that seniors receive the kind of health care they want, that their finances are in order and that their estate will be administered according to their wishes. Of course, this directly benefits the seniors who work with an elder law attorney, but the advantages also extend to their families.
Planning Ahead Benefits Seniors and Their Family Caregivers
Many seniors falsely assume that family members will be willing and able to just “take care of everything” if something goes awry with their health or finances. This kind of hands-off approach is risky and often leads to many unnecessary problems, both for seniors and their loved ones. Seniors may be apprehensive about spending money on an elder law attorney’s services, but failing to plan for the future can wind up being far more expensive.
For example, it’s common for seniors to procrastinate on making legal preparations. The task itself forces us to confront our own mortality and face how unpredictable our remaining years may be. Unfortunately, some elders put off this important job until it’s too late and they’re no longer competent to make informed decisions or handle legal matters. Their families are left with the costly and time-consuming task of fighting for the legal authority to act on their loved ones’ behalf—a legal designation known as guardianship. The unnecessary expense and stress of guardianship proceedings can be avoided with one simple appointment with an elder law attorney, resulting in both medical and health care powers of attorney.
The Importance of Putting Future Wishes and Plans in Writing
Furthermore, if a person’s desires for end-of-life care or the disposition of their personal property are not put in writing, there’s no guarantee that they will be respected. This leaves seniors extremely vulnerable to others’ whims, whether they are well-intentioned or self-serving. Such a lack of information also puts a significant burden on loved ones who either do not have the legal ability to advocate for the senior or are forced to make decisions on the senior’s behalf, without knowing what they would have wanted.
A certified elder law attorney (CELA) can help seniors retain as much control over their own lives as possible by helping them make decisions and preparations in advance. He or she will draft documents that will determine who will make decisions about a senior’s health care, who will handle the senior’s financial affairs, and how their friends and family will come to understand these wishes and avoid arguments over who should get to be in charge.
Legal Issues That Elder Law Attorneys Handle
Hiring an Elder Law attorney is a necessity for anyone facing the aging process, particularly when a debilitating disease or condition is involved or likely to develop. The special legal issues handled by an elder law attorney include:
- Health and personal care planning (health care powers of attorney, living wills)
- Financial representation (financial powers of attorney, financing housing options, estate planning, income and gift tax matters)
- Will and trust planning
- Planning for long-term care (identifying useful public benefits, such as Medicaid, obtaining and maintaining eligibility, and protecting assets)
- Guardianship and conservatorship
- Rights of residents in long-term care facilities
- Retirement and employment matters (age and disability discrimination, grandparents’ rights)
It is also vitally important to locate an attorney who specializes in elder law. There are general practice attorneys who may have some experience with topics that pertain to seniors and disabled individuals, but the regulations are constantly changing and can be very complex. Unlike other types of legal counsel, working with an elder law attorney can be cost effective, since most people only need one or two appointments to get their affairs in order. Initial consultations are frequently offered free of charge and flat package rates are common, depending on what documents are needed for each individual case.
While we can’t predict every obstacle or issue that we may encounter as we age, working with a specialized legal professional can help us cover our bases. This gives seniors invaluable peace of mind and helps their family members understand and accept their individual roles and responsibilities long before they must act on them. Family caregivers of aging loved ones who did not engage in any legal planning can attest to the many hindrances, unnecessary expense and overwhelming stress they encountered as a result.
To learn more about the services elder law attorneys provide or to find a qualified legal professional near you, visit the AgingCare Elder Law Attorney Directory.