What is an Elder Care Attorney?
Sometimes I get a quizzical look when I tell people I practice elder law. Sometimes they joke, "So you are an old attorney?" "Well, not quite", I say, "but elder law is more than general legal services for the elderly." I explain that an elder law attorney limits his practice to the issues that surround aging, including retaining independence, quality of life and financial security.
Today's seniors are living longer than ever before, and longer life spans create a new set of legal concerns. Some of the areas that elder law attorneys handle include:
Asset Preservation: There are strategies for using income and assets in the most effective manner, thereby achieving the best quality care, financial independence for the well spouse and the potential of leaving an inheritance. Federal and State rules do allow for spouses to keep certain assets so they will not be impoverished.
Powers of Attorney and Advance Medical Directives: We prepare the documents that enable financial or medical decisions to be made if and when a loved one is incapacitated. In many respects, this is the most important work that we do, because without a Power of Attorney or Health Care Representative, families may have to go to court to have a Conservator appointed, entailing time and expense.
Public Benefits Planning: Analysis of all potential payment sources for long-term care and the planning that goes with them. This includes Medicare, VA, Medicaid, disability and State of Connecticut resources.
Estate Planning, Wills and Trusts: These are tools that allow you to pass assets to beneficiaries after death, to provide for easier management of assets during incapacity, to protect your entitlements to public benefits and to allow for effective tax planning.
Guardianship/Conservatorship: The appointment of a person to make decisions when a loved one becomes incompetent and has done no advance planning. This is a court process. If there are no advance directives or power of attorney in place, this may be necessary.
Probate: Disposition of assets upon the death of a loved one. This is a court process for people with or without wills.
The other question I often receive is, "How do I know when my loved one may need an elder care attorney?" There are signs and triggering events that indicate an elder care attorney is needed, such as:
- A stroke or fall has occurred, or your loved one has been diagnosed with a debilitating disorder such as Alzheimer's disease.
- Your loved one's assets have fallen so low that he or she cannot afford a little extra help in the home.
- A loved one seems unduly influenced by a friend or family member.
- Your loved one is currently living in a care facility or is receiving in-home care.
- He or she is being discharged to a rehabilitation facility after a hospital stay.
- Your loved one's ability to function independently is declining.
- He or she is anxious about financial matters and is concerned about paying for long-term care.
- Your loved one is isolated due to the recent death of a spouse, or has family that either lives too far away or is unable to provide adequate care.
- A loved one has a variety of healthcare providers and needs care coordination and advocacy for quality care.
If these signs point to a need for care, and if your own resources are not enough to pay for that care, it is probably time to consult with an elder care attorney.