The legal needs of many older Americans go beyond basic legal services, and they’re all interconnected. In addition to understanding the legal issues and complications that older Americans face, elder law attorneys must also understand the surrounding personal concerns of their clients-for example, health, financial, and family issues-and how those affect their clients’ legal issues.
The three main areas of focus for elder law attorneys include health care, estate and tax planning, and guardianship matters. More specific areas of expertise include:
End of life planning. This could extend to planning your health care support system as you age, setting power of attorney, establishing a living will, and other issues surrounding end of life care.
Financial issues. This often covers retirement and financial planning, housing financing, income and estate tax planning, and gift tax issues.
Long term care. This could include planning for asset protection, insurance for in-home care or assistance with activities of daily living, Medicare planning, insurance, Veterans’ benefits, and more.
Residents’ rights issues. This could include any claims you bring while a patient in a nursing home or long term care facility.
Workplace discrimination issues. Older Americans sometimes face age and disability discrimination in the workplace; an elder law attorney can help you plan and execute your case.
Guardianship issues. This might include guardianship avoidance, planning wills and trusts, planning for the future of special needs children, probate court, and other issues surrounding minor or adult children.
Landlord / tenant law. This could mean handling disputes with landlords, contesting an eviction, dealing with foreclosure issues, and more.
Abuse, neglect, and fraud. These attorneys specialize in cases where an older client is being victimized. In these cases, the attorney can serve as a victim’s advocate and help get the client placed in a safer area if needed or get restitution from the abuser.
There are special certifications such as the Certified Elder Law Attorney credential from the National Elder Law Foundation. To earn this certification, you must have at least five years of experience practicing law, and have spent at least sixteen hours per week in the field of elder law during the previous three years, among other qualifications. The examination process lasts a full day.
An elder law attorney can be a great partner for you as you plan out the legal and financial aspects of the next stage of your life-or the life of a loved one. Ask how long the attorney has been practicing, the percentage of his or her practice that has been in elder law, and whether there are aspects of this field the attorney specializes in-and you should be able to find the right attorney for you.