What do Elder Law attorneys do and how can they help?
In contrast to the role of traditional estate planning attorneys, who help clients plan for the end of life, Elder Law attorneys focus on their clients’ needs during their lifetime. They are advocates for the elderly, the disabled, and their loved ones, assisting them and their caregivers to deal with issues related to health care, long-term care planning, guardianship, retirement, social security, medicare/medicaid, and other important matters.
Seniors and the disabled are vulnerable because they are dealing with unique and complex legal concerns. Therefore, it is important for people to work with an attorney who is an expert in the field and who can also help them navigate the system and coordinate with the broad range of other professionals and government agencies serving this group.
Utilizing various strategies, Elder Law attorneys assist seniors and the disabled to accomplish their goals of continuing to live with meaning, and to die in peace and with dignity.
Elder Law Strategies
Some strategies that are used by Elder Law Attorneys to help seniors and the disabled to accomplish their goals include the following:
- Family asset protection planning for long term care. Using legal and ethical planning tools, personalized for each family, they assist families to obtain public benefits, including various types of Medicaid and Veterans’ benefits, to help offset the costs of long-term care. They help clients to obtain government assistance for care that they can receive in their homes, in independent and assisted living facilities, and, if and when the time comes, at the best skilled nursing facilities.
- Estate planning. Unlike traditional estate planners (who do very good and valuable work), Elder Law attorneys help clients and their families put together and refine a plan of care, so that as their clients’ lives change, they are legally prepared in case of an emergency or an unexpected change in health.
- Guardianship. They help with the appointment of a guardian to act on behalf of an incapacitated individual’s person or property or both, under the court’s supervision. A family member can assume this responsibility, or, the court can appoint a professional guardian to serve.
- Guardianship advocacy. They help with the appointment of a guardian advocate, who is a person appointed by order of the court to act on behalf of a person, regardless of age, with a disability that constitutes a substantial handicap that can reasonably be expected to continue indefinitely, such as retardation.
- Special needs planning. In order for disabled people to obtain certain government benefits, they must qualify financially. An Elder Law attorney utilizes strategies and individually plans for clients and their families to provide for the long-term care of members of their families with disabilities. Such benefits are irreplaceable and their value cannot be measured.
- Probate and trust administration. When a loved one passes away, it takes an emotional toll on families. Navigating the legal landscape to achieve the loved one’s final wishes in an orderly manner can be overwhelming. An Elder Law attorney can help from the initial court filings through distribution, as well as advise clients as part of long-term trust administrations.
Bob Henderson, Principal, Elder Law College