Jun 5, 2023

What is an elder law attorney?

Manny Cominsky

As our senior loved ones age, they often face a unique set of legal challenges and concerns. Whether it's estate planning, long-term care, Medicaid eligibility, or protecting their rights and well-being, seniors and their families can benefit from the expertise of an elder law attorney, which is a lawyer who specializes in addressing the legal needs of the elderly. Elder law attorneys can be an incredible resource for helping navigate all the legal and financial challenges that come with aging. 

Elder law attorney overview

An elder law attorney is a legal professional who specializes in providing legal advice and representation to elderly individuals or their families. They focus on legal issues that are specific to the aging population, including estate planning, long-term care, guardianship, Medicare and Medicaid planning, Social Security benefits, elder abuse, and other matters related to seniors.

Elder law attorneys assist clients in navigating complex legal matters that may arise as a result of aging, such as creating wills, trusts, and powers of attorney, as well as developing strategies to protect assets and ensure the efficient management of finances. They can also provide guidance on healthcare planning, including advance directives and long-term care options.

Furthermore, elder law attorneys can help clients understand their rights and protections against elder abuse and exploitation. They may assist in filing complaints or pursuing legal action in cases of abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation of older adults.

What do elder law attorneys help with?

Estate planning: An elder law attorney can help seniors create a comprehensive estate plan tailored to their unique circumstances. This includes drafting wills that clearly outline how assets should be distributed after the senior's passing. They can also advise on various types of trusts, such as revocable living trusts or irrevocable trusts, which can help protect assets, minimize estate taxes, and provide for the needs of beneficiaries. Additionally, the attorney can assist with powers of attorney, ensuring that trusted individuals are designated to make financial and healthcare decisions on behalf of the senior if they become incapacitated.

Long-term care planning: Elder law attorneys are well-versed in the complexities of long-term care, including nursing home care, assisted living, and in-home care. They can provide guidance on navigating the Medicaid system and help seniors plan their finances to become eligible for Medicaid benefits while preserving assets for their loved ones. They can also assist with long-term care insurance options, evaluating policies, and determining the best coverage for the senior's needs.

Advance healthcare directives: Elder law attorneys can assist seniors in creating advance healthcare directives that reflect their wishes for medical treatment. This includes drafting living wills, which outline preferences for life-sustaining measures, end-of-life care, and other medical interventions. Attorneys can also help seniors appoint healthcare proxies or create medical powers of attorney, designating trusted individuals to make healthcare decisions on their behalf if they are unable to do so.

Guardianship and conservatorship: If a senior becomes incapacitated and is unable to make decisions independently, an elder law attorney can guide the family through the legal process of establishing guardianship or conservatorship. They can help file the necessary paperwork, represent the family in court, and ensure that the senior's best interests are protected. This includes appointing a guardian to make personal and healthcare decisions and a conservator to manage financial matters.

Social Security and Medicare benefits: Elder law attorneys can provide guidance on Social Security benefits, including retirement benefits, survivor benefits, and disability benefits. They can assist with understanding eligibility requirements, navigating the application process, and appealing any denied claims. Similarly, they can help seniors understand Medicare coverage options, enrollment periods, and address issues related to Medicare benefits, such as coverage denials or terminations.

Elder abuse and exploitation: If a senior experiences abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation, an elder law attorney can provide legal support. They can assist in reporting the abuse to the appropriate authorities, helping the senior obtain protective orders if needed, and pursuing legal action against the abusers. Attorneys can also provide guidance on prevention, educating seniors and their families on recognizing and addressing signs of elder abuse.

Veterans benefits: Elder law attorneys with expertise in VA benefits can assist senior veterans in accessing the benefits they are entitled to. This includes helping them navigate the application process for disability compensation, pensions, healthcare services, and other benefits provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Asset protection: Elder law attorneys can advise seniors on strategies to protect their assets while ensuring eligibility for government benefits such as Medicaid. This may involve creating trusts, such as irrevocable Medicaid trusts or special needs trusts, to shelter assets and preserve them for the senior's intended beneficiaries. Attorneys can also assist with asset transfers, gifting strategies, and structuring assets to minimize potential tax consequences.

Real estate matters: Elder law attorneys can provide guidance on real estate transactions, reviewing contracts, and ensuring the senior's interests are protected. They can assist with buying or selling property, negotiating leases, resolving landlord-tenant disputes, addressing property tax issues, and exploring options such as reverse mortgages or downsizing to free up financial resources.

Estate administration: When a senior passes away, an elder law attorney can guide the family through the estate administration process. This includes assisting with probate proceedings, managing the distribution of assets according to the senior's will or applicable laws, resolving any disputes among beneficiaries, and ensuring that the deceased's wishes are honored.

How to find an elder law attorney?

Referrals from trusted sources: Seek recommendations from friends, family members, or colleagues who have previously used the services of an elder law attorney. Personal referrals can provide valuable insights and help you find an attorney with a good reputation.

Professional associations: Contact local or national professional organizations that specialize in elder law, such as the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). These organizations often have directories or referral services that can connect you with qualified elder law attorneys in your area.

State or local bar associations: Visit the website or contact your state or local bar association for a referral to an elder law attorney. They may have a lawyer referral service that can provide you with a list of attorneys who specialize in elder law.

Online search: Conduct an online search using relevant keywords like "elder law attorney" along with your location. This can help you find law firms or individual attorneys specializing in elder law in your area. Read reviews, check their websites for information about their practice areas and expertise, and consider their experience and credentials.

Local senior service organizations: Reach out to local senior service organizations, such as senior centers, aging agencies, or nonprofit organizations focused on seniors. They may have resources or recommendations for elder law attorneys who have experience working with seniors in your community.

Consult with other attorneys: If you have an attorney who handles a different area of law, such as estate planning or family law, you can ask them for a referral to an elder law attorney. Attorneys often have professional networks and can provide valuable recommendations based on their knowledge of other legal specialties.

Once you have identified potential elder law attorneys, consider scheduling consultations with a few of them to discuss your specific needs, ask questions, and determine if they are the right fit for you. During the consultation, inquire about their experience in elder law, their approach to handling cases, fees, and any other relevant concerns you may have.

To learn more about how Sunbound can help make senior living more affordable for you or your loved one, send us an email at info@sunboundhomes.com or request more information on Sunbound. Sunbound is the best way to pay for senior living and is on a mission to make senior living affordable for everyone.

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