Elder Law: What It Is and When You May Need It

Elder law attorneys specialize in working with seniors or their caregivers on various aging-related legal matters such as estate planning, setting out future care wishes, and protecting financial assets. 

A recent article in Forbes Health points out that as you age, the legal issues that you, your spouse, or your family caregivers face can change. “For example, it’s important to have durable powers of attorney for financial and health needs in case you or your spouse becomes incapacitated. You might also need an elder law attorney to help transfer assets if you or your spouse move into a nursing home to avoid spending your life savings on long-term care.” 

While you can hire an estate or trust attorney to handle some of these legal matters, once the necessary documents are prepared and executed, their involvement generally ends. These attorneys tend work with clients on an ongoing basis, frequently helping them to create a long-term plan. They also usually have working relationships with professionals like social workers and geriatric case managers who can be pulled in to help manage elder care issues should they arise. 

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Issues that fall within the scope of elder law include (but are not necessarily limited to): 

  • Wills and estate planning 
  • Probate and administration of your estate 
  • Retiree health and income benefits 
  • Medicare, social security, disability claims and appeals 
  • Supplemental insurance and long-term care insurance claims and appeals 
  • Planning for a minor or adult with special needs 
  • Powers of attorney for personal finances and healthcare 
  • Living wills or other advance care directives 
  • Patient rights 
  • Guardianships and conservatorships (in the event you become incapacitated) 
  • Elder abuse and fraud 

When looking for an elder law attorney, keep in mind that some will have more experience with some of these issues than others. For instance, a particular elder law attorney may be very experienced with guardianships and conservatorships but not so much with insurance claims and appeals.  

There are a couple of different ways to find an elder law attorney. One is to search an online database like the one run by the non-profit National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Another is to get a referral from an organization you’re already receiving support from, a local seniors’ agency, a hospital social worker, or even AARP.   

Some lawyers will have a CELA or Certified Elder Law Attorney designation. However, if an elder law attorney doesn’t have the CELA certification, they may still be just as experienced or skilled as someone who does. 

When considering a move to a senior living community 

Many senior living communities require residents to have a power of attorney and/or advance directives in place. You can certainly prepare these documents without an attorney. However, if this isn’t something you’re comfortable doing on your own, then choosing an elder law attorney (as opposed to another type of lawyer) is probably the way to go.   

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