Legal issues that affect people as they age are growing in number. Our laws and regulations are becoming more complex, and each state has different laws. Actions taken with regard to a single matter may have unintended legal effects. It is important for attorneys working with seniors and their families, to have a broad understanding of the laws that may have an impact on a given situation to avoid future problems.
Elder Law encompasses many different fields of law. Some of these include:
- Preservation/transfer of assets seeking to avoid spousal impoverishment when one spouse enters a nursing home
- Medicare claims and appeals
- Social Security and disability claims and appeals
- Supplemental and long-term health insurance issues
- Tax planning
- 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
- Access to health care in a managed care environment
- Conservatorships and guardianships
- 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
- Probate and administration of estates
- Administration and management of trusts
- Long-term care placements in nursing home and life-care communities
- Nursing home issues, including questions of patients’ rights and nursing home quality
- Elder abuse and fraud recovery cases
- Housing issues, including discrimination and home equity conversions
- Age discrimination in employment
- Retirement, including public and private retirement benefits, survivor benefits, and pension benefits
- Health law
- Mental health law
Most attorneys do not specialize in every one of these areas. So when an attorney says he or she practices Elder, find out which of these matters the attorney handles. You will want to hire the attorney who regularly handles matters in the area of law of concern to your particular case and who will know enough about the other fields to question whether the action being taken might be affected by laws in any of the other areas of law. For example, if you are going to rewrite your will and your spouse is ill, the attorney needs to know enough about Medicaid to know whether there are legal issues with regard to your spouse’s inheritance.
Attorneys who primarily work with seniors appreciate the complex financial and social decisions their clients face. Elder Law attorneys bring to their practice a knowledge of their clients that allows them and their staff to ignore the myths relating to aging and the competence of seniors. At the same time, they will take into account and empathize with some of the true physical and mental difficulties that often accompany the aging process. They are tied into a formal or informal system of social workers, geriatric care managers, psychologists, and other professionals who may be of assistance to you or your loved one.