Elder Law - Don’t Just Hire Any Attorney
Elder law attorneys are advocates for the elderly and their loved ones. Most elder law attorneys handle a wide range of legal matters affecting an older or disabled person. The focus on the needs of older adults is very different than the those of younger adults. Elder law attorneys are usually sensitive to the unique challenges involved in this area of practice. It’s very important that any attorney you choose be knowledgeable and experienced in the area you require help with.
Elder law covers a variety of legal issues typically beginning at age 65. These would be specific legal issues unique to individuals at this age or older. Some examples are:
- Powers of attorney
- Advance directives for healthcare
- Guardianship and conservatorship
- Planning for incapacity and long term care
- Social security and disability claims and appeals
- Veterans benefits
- Preservation/transfer of assets seeking to avoid spousal impoverishment when a spouse enters a nursing home
- Supplemental and long-term health insurance issues
- Disability planning, including use of durable powers of attorney, living trusts, "living wills," for financial management and health care decisions, and other means of delegating management and decision-making to another in case of incompetency or incapacity
- Estate planning, including planning for the management of one's estate during life and its disposition on death through the use of trusts, wills, and other planning documents
- Divorce for individuals in retirement
For example, if you are going to write or rewrite your estate plan or will and your spouse is ill, the estate planner needs to know enough about Medicaid to know whether any inheritance your spouse receives from you will affect his or her ability to receive Medicaid. Medicare only pays for the first 100 days of a stay in a nursing home and if a stay is longer, the person staying in the nursing home will need to receive Medicaid if they cannot afford the stay with their own funds.
How can an Elder Law attorney can help me?
An elder law attorney can help with any one of the following:
- Discussing the importance of wills and estate planning, including planning for a minor or adult with special needs, probate proceedings, and other matters.
- Creating a power of attorney for your finances. This needs to be done while you are still healthy.
- Providing help with health care and planning for long term care. It may include patient rights, Medicare, and a health care power of attorney.
- Financial representation and assistance with locating a financial planner and housing and guidance on income, estate, and gift tax matters.
- Guardianship: help with selecting and appointing a legal guardian and/or conservator.
- Help locate long term care facilities and manage assisted living cost.
- Explaining nursing home resident rights and help file nursing home claims.
- Drafting a living will or other advance directives, including a health care power of attorney and long term planning documents.
- Providing insight and advice on the effects of a divorce when you are in retirement.
An elder law attorney can provide essential guidance required for you to plan your future. She can clarify the issues and problems you are or will likely be facing, and provide you with the tools you need to make a solid plan. She will help you deal with these issues before they become crises.
Certain questions come to mind like:
Who will manage your financial affairs if you become unable, and with what authority will they do so?
How do you establish the authority for someone to help manage your finances?
What if someone has been abusing that authority?
Where do you want your estate to go when you are deceased?
Do you need to worry about estate taxes?
There are answers to these questions. And this is where an experienced elder law attorney can help you. A good attorney can ask you some questions you didn’t even think to ask yourself! They can help you legally set forth your wishes.
Hiring an Attorney
When hiring an elder law attorney, you should consider a few important factors:
- Does the attorney in question have the background and experience to advise you properly?
- How long have they been practicing?
- How much of their practice actually involves “elder law”?
- What is the total cost for the advice and for doing the legal work if you hire them?
Coming prepared before your initial meeting with a potential attorney is important. You should gather:
- lists of major assets and information on how the assets are titled,
- lists of major debts and credit card bills,
- an overview of monthly income and expenses,
- any existing wills
- any existing powers of attorney,
- any important contracts you may have signed which would impact any legal issues
- copies of recent retirement account and bank statements
- copies of any insurance policies you have, including those for long term care
- copies of your most recent income tax returns
When it comes to getting older, planning is vital. An experienced elder law attorney can help make sure you and your family are prepared for what lies ahead. From estate planning to healthcare, in addition to preparing legal documents, an elder law attorney can help provide the information and resources you need to make sound decisions – both now and down the road.