By 2030, one out of every five Americans will be 65 years of age or older. Never before has the country had such a large over-60 population.
As the population ages, elder care and elder law are becoming more complex. Families are increasingly struggling with the documentation and processes associated with living well in old age.
Keep reading to learn how an elder law attorney can help you and your loved ones manage the changes and challenges of aging.
What Is Elder Law?
What is elder law, exactly? At its simplest, it is the body of law that deals with the elderly, their needs, and their rights.
Elder law covers a wide range of concerns, including:
- Estates, estate planning, and trusts
- Guardianship or conservatorship issues
- Disability and special needs planning
- Long-term care arrangements
- Elder abuse
Within each of these categories are numerous sub-categories of laws, rights, and limitations.
Estates, Estate Planning, and Trusts
Estate planning is the process of deciding what will happen to a person’s belongings, including their home and finances when he or she dies. Although estate planning is its own category of law, it is also considered elder law.
Guardianship or Conservatorship Issues
Illness, dementia, disabilities, and other conditions can render elders incapable of making decisions for themselves. When this happens, another person must step in and make decisions for them. Determining who that person should be and completing the paperwork to make that decision legal is elder law.
Disability and Special Needs Planning
The disability planning portion of elder law includes protecting one’s assets and ensuring resources for care in the event of a disability. Disability planning is important for elders, but also for families in which a child or other disabled party is dependent on the elderly person in question.
Long-Term Care Arrangements
Long-term is consistently more expensive than Americans realize. To make matters worse, few Americans understand the complicated restrictions associated with Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ benefits. Hiring an elder law attorney is often the only way to properly prepare to meet the demands of long-term care costs.
Vulnerable elders may become victims of physical, emotional, or financial abuse. Elder law covers their rights and protections.
What Is an Elder Law Attorney?
An elder law attorney is a lawyer who specializes in elder care issues. He or she:
- Understands the complexities of elder care law
- Knows the laws and regulations specific to Wisconsin Medicaid planning
- Is experienced in helping families walk through the legal processes necessary to protect themselves and their assets
- Can break down complicated legal topics into easy-to-understand language
- Can protect your rights or your loved one’s rights in the event of abuse
Elder care attorneys can assist you and your family in:
- Making important decisions
- Financial planning
- Completing critical paperwork to ensure your decisions will be recognized and respected
Often, elders aren’t even aware of all the decisions they need to make. Many have incorrect assumptions about what they need or can expect.
Elderl law attorneys can educate elders and their families on what questions they need to ask and answer. They can explain standard practices and options. Through this, they can help families reach the decisions that will serve them best.
As one gets older, financial planning becomes far more involved than simply having a 401k or other investments. Depending on one’s age, health, and assets, it can include:
- Establishing revocable living trusts
- Strategic asset drawdowns
- Applying for third-party benefits
The laws and restrictions regulating these activities vary by state, so it is important to get the help of a legal professional when drawing them up.
In the modern world, aging comes with an abundance of paperwork. Much of it is obscure or confusing. Worse, if it is not done absolutely correctly, it may be considered invalid.
An elder care attorney can help families complete or draw up:
- Medicare or Medicaid applications
- Veterans benefits applications
- Revocable living trusts
- Estate planning documents
- Living Will and airtight Power of Attorney documents
When to Get an Elder Law Attorney
Now that you know what elder law attorneys do, how do you know when you need one? Realistically, if you or a loved one is 65 years of age or older, or is at or approaching retirement age, it is smart to consult an attorney.
Finding an attorney is particularly important if the elder:
- Is disabled or has disabled dependents
- Owns a business or other substantial assets
- Has acute or chronic health conditions
- Has been married more than once or is recently divorced
- Has no children or does not have good relationships with their children
When in doubt, best practice is to consult with an attorney to ensure that your plans and documents are adequate, legal, and complete.
How to Find an Elder Law Attorney
When choosing an elder law attorney, there are few key factors to keep in mind.
First, make sure you are selecting an attorney experienced in elder law. Not just “any” attorney will do. You need to select an attorney or firm with experience in elder law.
Second, choose an attorney located and licensed to practice in your state. Elder law varies widely from state to state, as do the requirements for essential documents such as living wills and trusts. Choosing a local attorney can ensure you get assistance customized to your state’s requirements.
Finally, choose an attorney that you or your loved one is comfortable with. Elder law involves discussing and making decisions about deeply important and personal issues. Selecting an attorney that you trust can make those difficult conversations easier.
Talk to an Attorney Today
If you or your loved one is aging, don’t wait to contact an elder law attorney and make sure your affairs are in order. There is no substitute for the peace of mind that comes with knowing your family will be protected even if the worst happens and no better gift you can give the ones you love.