The demand for elder law attorneys is expected to rise with the increased life expectancy of our population. Those caring for an aging parent, spouse, or other loved one understand the difficulties they face in their later years, such as housing, health care, and financial stability.
Regardless of how intimidating these issues may appear, an elder law attorney is well-versed in these matters and can ease the entire process of living in a dignified manner, even as a senior citizen. If you are considering a career in this field, it is important to be aware of the obligations and challenges that come with it.
What Is an Elder Law Attorney?
Attorneys specializing in elder law represent the interests of the elderly and those who care for them. Retirement planning, social security, estate planning, Medicare/Medicaid eligibility, and long-term care planning are all included. Moreover, elder law attorneys advocate for and support adults who have been victims of elder abuse or age discrimination.
In some states, elder law attorneys may also be certified as elder law specialists by their State Bar. Although the specific requirements for certification as an elder law specialist vary by state, many states recognize the National Elder Law Foundation's certification as the "golden standard" for elder law and special needs professionals.
A certified elder law attorney must fulfill a number of licensing and other requirements, including ongoing education in the field and specific experience related to these matters. The objective is to ensure that attorneys who specialize in elder law are up-to-date on the latest developments in the field and have the skills necessary to successfully represent the interests of the elderly and their families.
Many elder law attorneys are sensitized to the emotional and physical needs of older or disabled adults, allowing them to handle a variety of difficult situations. For older adults, elder law attorneys are critical for providing the resources and support they need to live their lives with dignity and independence.
What Does an Elder Law Attorney Do?
Elder law attorneys provide services such as estate planning and asset protection, long-term care planning, and advocacy. Furthermore, elder law attorneys frequently handle guardianship and conservatorship cases, which can be complex legal matters because they frequently involve seniors who are unable to care for themselves due to physical or mental incapacity.
In line with that, because of the rising cost of healthcare, many seniors are being forced to spend their life savings in order to qualify for Medicaid coverage. As such, elder law attorneys can assist seniors in protecting their assets while still qualifying for Medicaid and other relevant programs.
Importantly, an attorney specializing in elder law can assist with any of the following:
- Discussing the significance of estate planning and wills, as well as planning for a minor or adult with special needs.
- Assistance with health care and planning, such as long-term care options, Medicare/Medicaid, patient rights, and health care power of attorney.
- Financial representation through financial planning, housing planning, estate, income, and gift tax matters.
- Guardianship or assistance in selecting and appointing a legal guardian.
- Creating a long-term power of attorney.
- Assistance in finding long-term care facilities and negotiating the cost of assisted living.
- Creating a living will or other advance directives and planning documents.
- Help with anything related to elder care law and age discrimination.
Elder law attorneys typically charge by the hour, depending on the nature of the work they have undertaken. Depending on the resident state, the attorney may charge flat fees for some elder law services, such as preparing wills, reviewing and signing documents, and filing tax returns.
What Is Elder Law?
Elder law refers to a practice that focuses on the rights and needs of older adults. It wasn’t that long ago that the elder law movement gained traction. The movement was initiated in response to the aging population facing unique challenges such as declining health, lack of community social services, and diminishing financial resources.
As a result, Congress passed the Older Americans Act (OAA) in 1965, which promotes the well-being of the nation's population aged 60 and over by providing services and programs tailored to their specific needs. In 1987, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys was established to improve the legal services provided to people as they age and those with special needs.
How an Elder Law Attorney Can Help
As the number of Americans over the age of 65 has been steadily increasing, elder law has emerged as one of the fastest-growing and most dynamic areas of legal practice. It’s a broad legal field that encompasses different legal issues, including estate planning, social security issues, elder rights, and guardianship. All of these are handled by elder law attorneys, which we'll go over in more detail now.
Financial Administration and Guardianship
People who are unable to care for themselves or their own affairs must have a guardian appointed by the court, which is handled by an elder care lawyer. Courts decide whether a guardian should be appointed to manage the affairs of the incapacitated person by providing for basic necessities, making medical and care decisions, and managing their financial affairs.
There is also conservatorship, which is limited to handling the ward's financial affairs.
Social Security Matters and Health Care
The age at which you become eligible for Social Security benefits is 62 years old, while the full retirement age is currently 67. Many elderly people rely on Social Security benefits to supplement their incomes in retirement, so an elder care attorney’s role is to assist in ensuring that older adults receive the appropriate benefits based on their condition.
Moreover, laws pertaining to the elderly involve health care matters to a considerable extent. Applications for and acceptance of state-equivalent programs such as Medicaid or Medicare, as well as other long-term care options, can have a significant impact on an individual's long-term health and financial security. Therefore, it’s the attorney's role to guide them through the process.
Even though estate planning is a separate area of the law, attorneys for the elderly are well-versed in the subject. This area deals with the transfer of a deceased person's property to their recipients, which is often carried out through the probate process.
Estate planning can be done in a variety of ways. In most cases, those who plan ahead choose to write a will, which specifies how the deceased (testator) wishes his or her property to be distributed after passing and who will be the executor of the will. Every state has its set of rules for drafting wills and managing property posthumously, so many people hire an attorney in elder law to do so.
On the other hand, some people choose to create a trust to manage their assets. The grantor (the person who creates the trust) transfers property (such as cash or stocks) to the trust's control. It is then up to the trustee to distribute the trust's funds in accordance with the stipulated terms and conditions.
Elder Abuse and Rights
Abuse of the elderly is a serious issue, and the number of cases that go unreported is alarming. Physical, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse, as well as neglect and abandonment, are all forms of elder abuse.
Unfortunately, family members are frequently the perpetrators of domestic violence and are often motivated by a lack of money or a sense of helplessness. An elder law attorney, or specifically, an elder abuse attorney, should be familiar with the protection services that each state provides for the elderly.
Many states and the federal government have enacted laws to protect the elderly. Under federal and state laws, nursing home residents have the right to dignity and privacy. Will more older people have their voices heard as more issues arise for the elderly? We'll have to find out.
Age Discrimination in Employment
There is still age discrimination in many organizations and companies, despite the fact that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act explicitly forbids employers from discriminating against people based on age. Even so, hiring bias statistics show that more than half of older workers were disregarded because of ageism in the hiring process.
It is possible to determine whether age is a factor in someone's employment or job search with the assistance of a specialized attorney, such as those who are members of NAELA, and take appropriate action to rectify the situation.
On a Final Note
A qualified elder law attorney provides valuable guidance to seniors and their families as they navigate the often confusing and complicated world of elder law. Experts have been joining organizations like NAELA and NELF, which maintain an extensive list of elder law attorneys on their websites.
If you’re planning to become an elder law attorney or if you already work in this field, it’s imperative that you stay up to date on the latest changes and challenges. In turn, this will enable you to continue making a difference in the lives of your clients.