According to the US Census Bureau, more than 49.2 million Americans were reported to be aged 65 or older in 2016, and the number is steadily increasing while medical and technological advancements are allowing seniors to live longer and better lives than ever before. The expanding needs of the US aging population are contributing to an increase in federal government senior assistance programs complexity and availability. Every senior has a unique set of circumstances that set parameters to navigate a successful aging plan, and due to the complexity of each person’s needs, there is no one size fits all planning strategy.
How can an elder law attorney assist you?
An elder law attorney provides overarching coordination for the financial, legal and health care decisions that seniors face. Finding and paying for long term care is something that many seniors and their family members fail to plan for, which can result in running out of money or not being able to secure appropriate care. Seniors or their families can seek legal assistance well before there is a need for long term care of a loved one to plan for what type of long term care is desired and how it will be paid for. While an elder law attorney cannot be a specialist in all facets of a senior’s plan for aging, they work in conjunction with other specialists when specific expertise is required.
Elder law attorneys can facilitate the establishment of a medical power of attorney, advanced health care directives in the case of dementia, or aiding in the selection process of the right long term care facility and assisting in structuring the financial resources that cover the cost of that care. Those resources may include maintaining eligibility for Medicaid or Veterans’ benefits while protecting the senior’s assets for themselves and their legacy.
Elder law attorneys often assist with guardianships if a senior is no longer capable of making responsible and informed decisions regarding their health, living, and financial affairs, and no one has been designated to do so. Guardianships are normally a last resort, as they are costly, require court involvement for the lifetime of the incapacitated person, and a stranger could be appointed to oversee the incapacitated person’s finances. Ideally, a senior will have proper legal documents in place to avoid a guardianship, but unfortunately this isn’t always the case.
A properly drafted estate or long term care plan can help avoid a guardianship, as the estate planning documents make sure there are proper agents named to handle financial and medical decisions in the event you or a loved one can no longer make those decisions. A properly drafted estate or long term care plan will also address how long-term care will be paid for, and whether assistance with government benefits is necessary.
Elder law attorneys also often assist those with an immediate need for their family members to be eligible for Medicaid benefits for long term care, but whom have failed to plan in advance. In such cases when advanced planning is not appropriate, elder law attorneys can assist clients in “crisis planning” to preserve resources and provide a better quality of life for a loved one in long term care.
Identifying the right elder law attorney is essential for a senior, their future, and the future of their legacy. Typical questions to consider include how much of the caseload is elder law related, how long has the attorney practiced elder law, and if the attorney has knowledge of a particular practice area such as Veterans’ benefits, Medicaid, estate planning or probate expertise. You should also seek an elder law attorney whose practice is dedicated to elder law, as this area of law is often changing and it is important to have an attorney who is committed to keeping up to date with federal and state benefits law.
Selecting the right elder law attorney for your personal needs or those of a loved one will make a significant impact on your plan for successful aging. Start well in advance of the time you or your family anticipates the need for your long term care. If planning in advance is not an option, seek an elder law attorney who can assist you to ensure you can retain as much of the resources you have worked and saved for over your lifetime.