Table of Contents
- What Is Elder Care Law?
- Estate Planning and Administration
- Elder Finances
- Legal Matters
- How Much Does Elder Care Law Cost?
- How To Hire An Elder Care Law Attorney?
- Start Planning Today!
Are you nearing retirement age? It’s time to consider an Elder Care Law Attorney.
As you age, there is an increasing risk that your health and cognitive ability will naturally decline. Eventually, you might not be able to make important decisions on your own.
Enter Elder Care Law—an area of legal practice specializing in the aging population’s financial and legal issues.
Here’s how it can help you.
What Is Elder Care Law?
Elder care law will help you “get your ducks in a row” before becoming cognitively impaired. The three primary focuses of elder care law include estate planning, elderly finances, and legal issues.
An attorney specializing in elder care law can help you overcome the unique challenges facing older individuals.
Estate Planning and Administration
Establishing an estate is a very delicate process that requires a lot of paperwork and legal support. To ensure the right assets are granted to the proper beneficiaries, it is wise to hire an attorney.
They will advise you and your family on how to set up the estate correctly. Furthermore, an experienced attorney can provide advice on tax consequences that come with different inheritance strategies.
There are a variety of inheritance strategies that might fit your situation best. If you are proactively looking to set up your estate now, while you are healthy, consult an elder care law attorney about one of the following:
Power of Attorney (POA)
A Power of Attorney allows you (the principal) to authorize someone to make financial and legal decisions when you become cognitively incompetent.
The authorized individual (the agent) can make health care decisions on your behalf, such as medical treatments and end-of-life decisions.
There are three different designations of a POA:
- A Durable POA allows the agent to act on behalf of the elderly individual in all legal and financial affairs.
- A Nondurable POA can limit those powers to a specific document or act, such as signing checks for the individual.
- A Springing POA comes with all the rights of a Durable POA, except it doesn’t go into effect until specified requirements are met—for instance, a medical diagnosis.
An elder care law attorney can help you decide which option is best for your situation. Then, they will go through the tedious, complex paperwork that goes into establishing a POA.
Although Powers of Attorney work great in most circumstances, they carry less authority than guardianship. This could possibly lead to legal disputes in the future.
If you become incapable of making medical decisions, someone close to you could be appointed as a guardian. This allows them to make medical decisions on your behalf.
Guardianship is similar to a power of attorney, except it is established through a public proceeding and carries more authority.
Guardians hold many of the same responsibilities as a parent would to a child—deciding where you will live, how to keep you healthy, and how to budget your finances.
Since you would be giving up some essential rights and entrusting your life to another person, obtaining guardianship could be a long and tedious process.
Additionally, while setting up guardianship, your attorney might ask some invasive questions.
Typical questions could include:
- Do you have children?
- Where do your children live?
- What are your children’s relationships with each other?
- What do they do for a living?
- Are they married>?
- Are you married, or have you had previous marriages?
These questions are only meant to determine who is in the best interest to care for you.
Keep in mind, even if they are related, some people take advantage of the elderly. Your attorney will help you prevent this to protect yourself and your assets.
While close family members often serve as guardians, a guardian can be appointed by the court in cases where there is no eligible family member.
At this point in your life, you probably have a few assets in your name. If you want someone to manage these assets if you become cognitively impaired, a living trust is something to consider.
This allows you (the grantor) to appoint someone (the trustee) to manage the assets in a trust when you are no longer able to manage your finances.
A person or financial institution can be the trustee, but it should always be someone you can trust. An elder care law attorney can help you designate a trustee, decide which type of trust is best, and establish trust.
This process should be completed with the help of a professional to ensure it is filed correctly. Any mistakes could lead to losing some of your assets.
A will is similar to a living trust, except that it pertains to issues after your death.
With a will, you name an executor and beneficiaries. When you pass away, the executor manages your estate and will ensure that the beneficiaries receive all of the correct assets.
“In every jurisdiction, if there isn’t a valid will, assets will pass on to your heirs by law, who may or may not be who you would have provided for in a will,” said Samantha Weyrauch Davis, an estate planning attorney at Hall Estill in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
If you want certain assets to go to certain beneficiaries, a will is something to consider.
This prevents legal debates and court battles over who gets which assets. An attorney will help you clearly state which assets go to which beneficiaries with no confusion.
A living will allows you to state, in advance, what kind of medical care you do or do not want to receive in the future.
This can cover various procedures, such as life support, mechanical ventilation, tube feeding, dialysis, antibiotics, organ and tissue donations, and more.
An elder care lawyer will help you determine your wishes. They will also help identify any circumstances that might make you feel like receiving medical attention isn’t worth it.
Do you want treatment to extend your life no matter what the situation is like? Would you want treatment only if a cure is possible?
This legal document answers these questions, plus many more if you cannot make medical decisions independently in the future.
When you pass away, there will be legal affairs that need to be tended to; this is the probate process.
Probate starts with the inheritors filing a petition. This moves the court to acknowledge any financial challenges left behind when you pass away.
Your remaining assets will be used to cover these expenses, or your family can step in to help protect the assets.
After all expenses are covered, the remaining assets will be distributed to beneficiaries as dictated by a will.
Early planning with an experienced elder care law professional will ensure the probate process goes as smoothly as possible. They will help you keep as many assets as possible to pass down to your loved ones.
Being proactive with your end-of-life planning will help see that your wishes are fulfilled after you pass.
Most medical expenses tend to be incurred at the end of one’s life. To ensure sufficient coverage is in place to pay these expenses, contact an elder care law attorney.
They can help you take advantage of certain benefits unique to the aging population. This includes gaining access to certain financial programs and tax deductions.
Instead of relying on a family member to be your caregiver, an attorney will help you plan for senior living. This will ensure you can cover the costs of around-the-clock care so that your loved one doesn’t have to take on this burden.
Generally, an attorney will help you plan for senior living, ensuring you can cover the costs when you need around-the-clock care.
Social Security Benefits
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal program for the elderly that provides a minimum guaranteed income for those who qualify. This program makes monthly payments to people who have low income and few resources.
If you are worried about covering long-term care costs, an attorney can help determine your eligibility for SSI.
This program comes with multiple different requirements. A legal professional can help you strategize to get the most out of your social security benefits.
If you end up disagreeing with a decision made on your claim, an attorney will help you appeal it. This process is long and complex and should only be handled by a professional.
Medicare and Medicaid Coverage
You have probably heard of Medicare or Medicaid by now but are still completely confused about what they do.
Medicare is a federal program for individuals over the age of 65 that provides various long-term care coverage. If you are an older adult, this program can help you pay for a senior care facility.
Alternatively, Medicaid is a state-managed program that helps with healthcare costs for people with limited income and resources. Unlike Medicare, Medicaid is based on your income and not just your age.
Medicaid typically covers the costs of nursing home care and personal care services. Whereas Medicare focuses on assisted living and memory care facilities.
The programs are incredibly complex. To gain the most coverage, consult an attorney. A professional will know strategic steps that you can take to limit long-term care costs.
Long-Term Care Costs
Before your health declines, it is a good idea to plan for getting the right level of care for the lowest price possible.
Unfortunately, the average cost of long-term care in 2021 is $8,821 per month ($105,850). This is way out of the budget for most people.
This is why strategic planning is essential.
An elder care attorney will help you plan for these expenses and ensure that you can live comfortably with the right level of care—without sacrificing your assets.
As you age and when you pass away, there will be unique tax challenges that face you and your assets.
A reasonable elder care law attorney will do all they can to shield your inheritance from taxes to leave your loved ones with as many assets as possible.
There are constant changes to senior taxes and different deductions that you might be eligible for. Contact a professional to determine the best course of action to take for the next tax season and beyond.
As you near retirement age, planning where you will live and how you will pay for stuff can be stressful.
Although it can be intimidating or emotional, it is super important to plan.
If you are looking to move somewhere warmer, like Florida, an attorney can help you with the transition.
If you are worried about covering living expenses or extended periods of time without a job, an attorney can help you.
They will ensure you can live where you want, comfortable, and on a flexible budget.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) helps veterans and their families by providing supplemental income through the Veterans Pension and Survivors Pension benefit programs.
Some veterans are eligible for additional monthly payments above the average pension amount through these programs.
If you are a veteran, consult an elder care law attorney to determine your eligibility for various Veterans Affairs benefits. They will help you maximize the amount you are paid to help cover living expenses or senior care costs.
Real Estate and Mortgage Assistance
Consulting with an elder care law attorney provides a customized approach to your living situation that fits your overall life plan.
These attorneys are aware of options unique to seniors that help reduce out-of-pocket expenses of living.
They will help you decide how to secure your most significant financial investment or get a reverse mortgage if necessary.
Most seniors don’t know what a reverse mortgage is or how one works. This financial tool allows a homeowner, 62 or older, to borrow against the equity in their home.
When you get a reverse mortgage, you will receive funds as a lump sum, line of credit, or fixed monthly payments.
Reverse mortgages don’t require you to make any loan payments; instead, the entire balance becomes due and payable upon your death.
An attorney can help you decide if this is the right option for you and, if not, what other options are available.
Unfortunately, many older people are more susceptible to fraud and other crimes. This results in a large body of elder care law specializing in preventing crime against the elderly and enhancing penalties against those involved.
If you become cognitively impaired, you might not think straight. You will be more likely to give out personal information to a criminal, such as your credit card or social security number.
Setting up a relationship with an attorney can help prevent elder abuse. They will help you take preventative steps and help you and your family press charges if you do happen to be taken advantage of.
In 1987, Congress passed the Social Security Act, which brought the Nursing Home Reform Law. This law requires nursing homes to provide certain services to their residents and meet specific standards.
Under this law, residents must be provided certain rights, including:
- Be treated with respect and dignity
- Be free of abuse, mistreatment, and neglect
- Be free of physical restraints
- Participate in social activities
- Communicate freely
- Make decisions about the resident’s care
- Voice grievances about retaliation
If you end up living in a nursing home and these rights are infringed upon, an elder care lawyer will ensure the nursing home or specific caregiver is punished.
Elder Abuse and Neglect
Whether you are in a nursing care facility or in your own home, the elderly are abused all too often.
A recent study found that around 16% of seniors experience some form of elder abuse in their lifetime.
Elder abuse can result in malnutrition, bedsores, and other injuries.
An elder care law attorney can help you press charges when you have been mistreated by a caregiver.
Fraud that targets the elderly is a form of elder abuse and is becoming more and more of a problem.
According to AARP, in 2017 alone, reports of suspicious financial activity involving older folks total $1.7 billion.
If you are ever taken advantage of, an attorney will help you report the crime to the FBI and, if necessary, file a lawsuit against the perpetrator. This will help fight to get your lost assets back from the criminal.
For a comprehensive rundown of how to prevent elder financial fraud, I recommend Michele DiGirolamo’s guide to elder financial fraud prevention methods.
How Much Does Elder Care Law Cost?
If you think you need help with one of the issues above, it is time to consult with an elder care law attorney.
Elder care law attorneys generally charge by the hour based on the type of work. In some cases, they charge a predetermined, flat rate charge for simple services like reviewing and signing documents or filling out a tax return.
Although most lawyers offer free consultations, some charge an initial fee of $175 to $500. After the consultation, a price for their services will be quoted
The cost of elder care law can range anywhere from $500 to $12,000 or more.
How To Hire An Elder Care Law Attorney
When looking for a lawyer, it is crucial to find a professional experienced in the specific issue you need help with.
For the best legal services, look for a certified elder law attorney (CELA).
These attorneys have practiced elder law professionally through numerous hours of continued education. This helps ensure they are experienced and know what they are talking about.
To find a CELA, search the National Elder Law Foundation for an attorney in your city or state.
When hiring a lawyer, follow the tips below.
Meet for an initial consultation
An in-person meeting will help you get a feel for how they work and if their legal services will work for you. Many attorneys are willing to meet for 15-30 minutes free of charge.
If there is a fee, find out how much it will be.
Meet with multiple attorneys and compare their responses to your questions. This will help you confirm that the overall approach is legitimate.
Evaluate their customer service
When working with a lawyer, you should be comfortable asking questions, and they should give clear answers. Ensure you are working with someone professional, friendly, and responsive.
After speaking with a lawyer, reflect on these questions:
- Are they professional?
- Do they return calls or emails in a timely manner?
- Do they take time to explain things to make sure you have a good understanding?
- Do they follow through with the things they’ve said they’ll do?
This may seem insignificant, but I assure you it will give a good idea of which lawyer offers the best services and which doesn’t.
How much experience do they have?
Experience comes with years of practice and with how many legal issues they have dealt with.
When meeting with a lawyer, ask them if they have experience handling matters similar to yours. If they say yes, ask them to describe that experience.
For example, if you need a Power of Attorney and long-term care planning, ask the attorney how much experience they have with both.
This will verify that they can effectively help with your case.
You can check the State Bar Association website for your state to check their credentials. This will show what accomplishments they have and if they’ve ever been publicly disciplined.
It is not uncommon to go into end-of-life planning confused. However, it is important to have a good understanding of what you’re paying for and what services your lawyer is providing.
If you have any questions at all, ask! The attorney is there to help.
To decide their eligibility as your lawyer, ask:
- How long have you been practicing law?
- What percentage of your time is devoted to elder care law?
- Do you have a particular emphasis on a certain area within elder care law?
- What information should I prepare for our first meeting?
- How are your fees computed?
Take plenty of notes
When interviewing multiple lawyers, it might be hard to keep track of who said what. To prevent confusion, take notes.
This will help you remember what each lawyer said and how you felt about this.
After you meet with each lawyer, review the notes to make your final decision.
This will help you determine which lawyer fits your needs best.
Start Planning Today!
Hopefully, you now understand the importance of planning your retirement and end-of-life goals. Meet with an elder care law attorney as soon as possible to start setting up your future.
“Remember, action today can prevent a crisis tomorrow.”
*Disclaimer: The content of this blog is intended to be general and informational in nature. It is not intended to be, nor is it, legal advice to or for any particular person, case, or circumstance.