Just as some health care providers specialize in only certain areas of medicine, not all attorneys are created equal—at least in terms of where their legal expertise lies. That’s why you should seek out the expertise of an attorney certified in elder law if you need help navigating complex legal issues that are specific to aging seniors. Planning for the senior years, in particular, can be confusing and difficult, and simple situations can rapidly turn into complicated and expensive challenges without the right guidance and advice.
How do elder law attorneys help?
Elder law attorneys are advocates for the elderly and their loved ones. Most elder law attorneys handle a wide range of legal matters affecting an older or disabled person, including issues related to health care, long-term care planning, guardianship, retirement, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and other important matters. They help by:
- Evaluating the client's needs relating to federal tax, social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and property laws
- Preparing trusts and wills
- Determining the best way to pay for long-term health care including private duty home care
- Assisting with disability planning, including use of durable powers of attorney, living trusts, and living wills for financial management and health care decisions
- Setting up conservatorships and guardianships
- Offering counseling on the distribution of public and private retirement benefits, survivor benefits, and pension benefits
- Assisting the client and their family make emotionally difficult decisions, such as those related to end-of-life
Will elder law attorneys know all areas of senior law?
Most elder law attorneys do not specialize in every one of these areas, so it’s important to find out which of these matters they are equipped to handle. You will want to hire the attorney who has experience in and knowledge of your specific area of concern, yet who also knows enough about the other fields to question whether the action being taken might be affected by laws in any of the other areas of law.
For example, if you are going to rewrite your will and your spouse is ill, the attorney needs to know enough about Medicaid to know whether it is an issue with regard to your spouse’s inheritance. The Medicaid, Medicare, gifting, special needs trusts, and revocable and irrevocable trusts are complex and evolving, so your attorney should have an in-depth understanding of the system’s federal laws as well as those of your state.
What are your options if you can’t afford an elder law attorney?
Some dedicated elder law firms have Aging Life Care Professionals— also known as geriatric care managers—within their practice. These highly skilled and resource-informed, non-attorneys can offer many additional services and/or guidance at a significantly lower rate than an attorney’s hourly fee. Aging Life Care Professionals are typically social workers or nurses who have access to in-depth information and linkages to other services or programs.
As another option, you can also check with your town’s Area Office on Aging or the Internet for local and state agencies that may be able to help you.
How do you find an elder law attorney?
If you’d like to find an elder law attorney, you can check with the National Academy of Elder law Attorneys, Inc., (NAELA). It is a professional association of attorneys who are dedicated to improving the quality of legal services provided to people as they age and people with special needs. Another resource is the Special Needs Alliance, which is a national alliance of attorneys for special needs planning.
Originally Published: August 2016
Last Updated: January 2022