Elder Law is an area of legal practice that is defined more by the type of client it serves than the more traditional fields of practice. The types of legal issues that are the focus of Elder Law attorneys’ practice include:
Estate Planning: Planning that is tailored to the specific situation, needs, and hopes of the client, including the desire to preserve one’s home and financial legacy. Any good estate plan must also consider family dynamics and needs of the next generation, especially if there is a child or grandchild with special needs. Most estate plans are memorialized in a Last Will & Testament, Revocable and/or Irrevocable Trusts, and other documents prepared in anticipation of incapacity more fully described below.
Planning for Incapacity: Elder Law attorneys tend to focus on enhancing and improving clients’ quality of life, rather than planning only for what happens to their assets after death. It is essential to have thoughtfully-designed plans in place for dealing with future incapacity, no matter one’s current age or state of health. Carefully drafted Powers of Attorney (Financial and Healthcare) can ensure that clients planning decisions will be carried out by their agent if they aren’t able to do it themselves. It is important that certain powers be included in the Power of Attorney that would enable the agent to engage in strategies that will protect the family from shouldering the staggering cost of nursing home care. Elder Law attorneys are uniquely prepared to plan for those issues.
Planning for Long-Term Care: Nursing home care costs well over $110,000 in Maryland. These long-term costs are not covered by Medicare, nor any private health insurance. In order to avoid financial devastation, seniors and their families often rely on government programs (typically Medicaid and VA benefits) to preserve their home, investments, and other assets the senior has worked to build-up over their lifetime. Achieving eligibility for long-term care is a central part of elder law practice. It is best to plan for this years ahead, but clients can achieve a significantly better outcome by working with an Elder Law attorney. Consulting an Elder Law attorney before or at the time of nursing home admission is essential.
Adult Guardianship: If one loses the ability to manage their affairs and there is not a valid, effective Power of Attorney in place, a Guardianship may be necessary. Elder Law attorneys work with families to pursue a Guardianship Order in court, which gives the Guardian the authority to act on behalf of the disabled person.
Probate, Estate & Trust Administration: After the death of a loved-one, families generally need the assistance of an attorney to handle the estate. Elder Law attorneys routinely represent estates before the Register of Wills or Orphans Court. They also advise Personal Representatives and Trustees of their legal obligations and duties in administering estates and trusts.
Elder Abuse & Exploitation: Unfortunately, there are individuals who prey on and take advantage of seniors. Physical and financial abuse are sometimes even committed by fiduciaries, caregivers, and family members. Elder Law attorneys are prepared to investigate, gather evidence of abuse, theft, and exploitation, and seek appropriate remedies, including removal of fiduciaries, court orders, return of property, and even criminal prosecution in appropriate cases.
This list only includes the most common roles of Elder Law attorneys. Naturally, some practitioners tend to focus more on some of these areas, while others offer additional services. All Elder Law attorneys, at least all I have met, cherish their role as advocates and trusted advisors for seniors and their families, whether the client is just beginning to think about these issues or is immediately facing a nursing home stay.