Elder Law: An In-Depth Guide Plus Local Resources

Elder Law

Elder Law: An In-Depth Guide Plus Local Resources

Our comprehensive guide covers elder law and situations that seniors would benefit from a qualified elder law attorney or practice. 

The population of older adults is increasing quickly and becoming more diverse. With millions of baby boomers now aging into older adults, their needs change and become more complicated and a new set of questions arises. 

Elderly adults are not only increasing in population, but they are living longer as well. The availability and complexities of federal programs that exist to aid the aging American population is also growing. For these applicable cases and other individuals at or near retirement age, an elder law attorney may be a great resource.

What is an elder law attorney?

An elder law attorney, also known as an elder care attorney, can assist older adults and their families traverse the complex legal and financial decisions they will face. It’s considered to be a specialty in the law field, with a growing number of attorneys across America to meet the burgeoning demand

As the American population grays, the desire for attorneys who understand the unique characteristics of planning for older adults and others with special needs will continue to grow. Elder law includes various subspecialties as part of its list of service offerings. These include planning for estate tax, trusts and probate, wills, disability trusts and other special needs. These services are all part of an elder law practice, but they impact younger people too. 

Who does an elder law attorney help?

Elder law attorneys are lawyers that specialize in providing legal support to elderly and disabled individuals. For example, their services can help make certain that seniors receive the kind of health care that fits their needs, that their finances are in proper order, and that their estate will be overseen and administered per their wishes. 

Elder law attorneys work with adults at a variety of ages. Some are adults that are approaching their older adult years and want to prepare for the next phases of their life. Others are family members that employ elder law attorneys to assist their loved ones in need. 

Elder law attorneys regularly work with seniors. They are specially trained to consider any physical and mental limitations aging clients may be experiencing. Therefore, they can and do work with individuals that have experienced cognitive decline. Also, they usually partner with a close network of long-term care planners, psychologists, social workers, and other professionals to provide assistance with a client’s individual needs.

An elder law attorney is a lawyer who specializes in providing legal services for elderly and disabled individuals. Their services help ensure that seniors receive the kind of health care they want, that their finances are in order and that their estate will be administered according to their wishes. 

What does elder law cover?

legal services for elderly

As individuals age, their needs and concerns will evolve and change. Old age causes people to start thinking about their health. With that comes common questions to resolve, including what will occur if someone needs to move to an assisted living or nursing facility or get other forms of help. Further issues to resolve might also include the ability and how to pay for future medical services if financial resources are limited plus direction on leaving behind inheritance. Elder law covers these issues plus many more. 

The field of elder law is a large one, and some may focus on many or all of the most common issues related to legal concerns of older adults. However, others still will have a more narrow focus and may not cover all areas but have significant expertise in one or more areas. Be sure to consult with your attorney or research elder law attorneys by specialization, especially if your legal concern is less common or more unusual. The following are the most common issues that elder law attorneys deal with. 

Long-term care

Possibly the greatest questions that adults face as they age relates to long-term care. A large portion of Americans will need hands-on assistance in one form or another during their senior years. Examples include at-home care for those in cognitive decline, chronic illness, or resulting from dementia or Alzheimers. More intensive options include assisted living and nursing homes should one need the safety of housing of more hands-on support and monitoring. 

The cost of long term care is very expensive. Home care is a lower cost option than nursing homes (which average upwards of $100,000 a year). However, any care options will almost inevitably run into the thousands of dollars, even if hands-on care is kept to a minimum. As a result, an elder care attorney can help navigate options to mitigate these costs such as long term care insurance. 

Long term care insurance options can and are excellent for many older adults to implement. However, this needs to be done under careful consideration and with some foresight and planning. Take a look at our comprehensive guide to long-term care insurance here as a great resource for long-term care insurance. Also, find our most common reasons for long-term care insurance denials to strategize how to get the best long term care insurance coverage for you or a loved one. 

Alternatively, an elder law attorney can help individuals come up with a strategy to find affordable long-term care options. One common option that elder law attorneys focus on is through Medicaid payment programs. This government program pays for the cost of assisted care for those that qualify, including home care or a nursing home. This is an available option for Pennsylvanians with high financial and health needs. Check out our detailed resource on Medicaid programs in Pennsylvania for a comprehensive guide, plus how loved ones can get paid to care for a family member through this program. Pennsylvania elder law lawyers can navigate you through state Medicaid rules and regulations while guiding you to meet the qualifications. 

Benefit programs

On top of Medicaid matter, elder law attorneys have expertise and an understanding of Social Security, Medicare, and Veterans benefits programs. They can help you to apply for and receive benefits that you are due under program entitlements. 

Guardianship

Senior guardianship, otherwise known as conservatorship, is a legal establishment facilitated when a court appoints a person to care for an elderly person who is no longer able to care for himself or herself. Therefore, guardianship is more than just for children. Guardianship can either be full or limited in power. In any case, it generally provides the guardian control over most fundamental decisions, such as financial and medical ones, of the debilitated person, referred to as the ward.

The guardian is a person appointed by the state. They won’t necessarily be a family member or friend. This could be done to protect the individual since the court could see someone who knows the ward as having stakes or vested interests in the person’s assets or property. 

Guardians are legally required to act in the ward’s best interest. Since they have direct access to the ward/elder’s finances and health records, the potential for them to abuse their powers and exploit the ward for financial gain does exist. Many older adults benefit from a guardian’s care, but others may be subject to elder abuse, neglect, or being exploited. There have been a surprising number of cases of older adults losing financial assets or savings because of state-appointed guardians.

To ensure that someone you can confide in has control of your finances and legal decisions if you are unable to do so, it’s vital to consider a durable (effective even in the case of incapacitation) power of attorney and a healthcare proxy that will make decisions on your behalf. These estate planning documents are a good first defense against potential guardianship.

If you suspect someone you know is being subjected to abuse in Pennsylvania, check out our guide for the signs of elder abuse and where to turn for help

Estate planning

Estate planning involves preparing for how someone’s assets and belongings get distributed after they pass away. Individuals growing older often will have pondered or thought about what to do with their assets upon death. Often, older adults may not be as proactive about estate planning or other matters of death because it can sometimes be difficult to think about, but an experienced elder law attorney can help walk you through it. 

Many individuals will ultimately decide to create a will or trust. An elder law attorney can assist you in discussing your options and ultimately crafting one. You may also need an attorney specifically dedicated to estate planning depending on your situation. We’ll talk more about that coming up.

Additional focus areas of elder law:

 

  • Medicare Eligibility and Claims
  • Social security and disability claims and appeals
  • Financial planning for long-term care
  • Elder abuse case management
  • Patient rights
  • Nursing home issues and disputes
  • Tax advice and planning strategies
  • Probate services
  • Asset protection
  • Age discrimination
  • Visitation rights of grandparents

Is estate planning different from elder law?

Elder law and estate planning are two different areas of focus but they are closely related. Therefore, it is important to cover where they overlap and important ways that they differ. 

Estate planning focuses on what will happen to your assets and money when you die. Elder law deals with what happens to your money while you’re still alive. This includes how best to direct your finances in terms of your health and in other situations.

A myth of elder law practice is that because elder law often centers around Medicaid, those who are not low-income will not have a need for elder law attorneys. Alternatively, a perception of estate planning attorneys is that they are only intended for wealthier individuals. There are many everyday adults of all income levels that end up without proper guidance because of these ]misconceptions. This only leads to poor planning and preparation and adults get older.

You may require the services of either type of attorney at different points in your life, depending on one’s personal situation. It’s also not unusual to find a lawyer or a firm that specializes in both elder law and estate planning. However, do your research and ask the right questions before proceeding, such as clarifying their expertise and their limitations. They are complementary, but separate legal specialties. Not every attorney will have expertise in both areas. 

Understanding elder law vs. estate law

The following is a simple analysis to break down the key differences that separate elder and estate law practices. 

Focus of elder law:

  • Protect and preserve assets
  • Access long-term care in case of disability, decline, or impairment
  • Qualify and be eligible for government benefits, if applicable

Focus of estate law:

  • Will and trust creation
  • Plan for unique circumstances like a special needs trust, second marriage, etc.
  • Lowering your tax burden (both estate tax and inheritance tax)
  • Understanding probate and avoiding it

Are elder law attorneys certified?

Elder Law Attorneys are only nationally certified by the National Elder Law Foundation’s (NELF) Board of Certification.This non-profit organization was founded in 1993. They focus on improving and developing the professional practice and expertise of lawyers specializing in elder law and special needs planning. The National Elder Law Foundation is accredited by the American Bar Association and is authorized by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to certify elder law attorneys.

The certification that elder law specialists receive from NELF is referred to as Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA).It identifies an attorney that has completed the requirements for the NELF certification while also passing a written exam. 

Do I need a certified elder law attorney?

If you select a CELA-certified elder law attorney, it ensures that your attorney has, among other things:

  1. Passed a thorough and comprehensive examination that has less than a 30% pass rate
  2. Exhibited significant involvement in dealing with a minimum of 60 elder law concerns among seven subspecialties of elder law
  3. Had at least half of their practice focus on the specialty for three of the last five years
  4. Participated in at least forty five (45) hours of continuing legal education (CLE) in elder law in the three years prior to the application submitted
  5. List a minimum of five references familiar with the lawyer’s elder law work

Non-certified attorneys can and do regularly work on matters that pertain to older adults and their legal matters. However, working with a certified attorney ensures that you have a lawyer on your side that truly understands the variety of legal issues that surround older adults plus a commitment to them by completing the process of certification. You can find a list of CELA local attorneys on NELF’s page across America and right here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by clicking here

Elder law attorneys and other legal resources in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania (and other state) certified elder law attorneys

SeniorLaw Center: SeniorLAW Center provides a wide range of services in and around Philadelphia to protect the legal rights and interests of the elderly.

Community Legal Services (CLS): CLS provides free legal advice and representation to low income residents of Philadelphia.

Gerhard and Gerhard: The estate planning and elder law attorneys at Gerhard & Gerhard help clients plan their estates and protect assets from nursing home costs, legally.

Anderson Elder Law: Anderson Elder Law is a firm specializing in the legal issues affecting elders, the disabled, and their families.

Bottom Line

Elder law is dedicated to various matters that might be important to senior citizens and other adults. It is a legal specialty covering multiple situations, and includes both medical and financial planning. 

Elder law began to help seniors better understand Medicaid and help qualify for nursing home care or assisted living. Nowadays, it is much more comprehensive, including matters like guardianship, abuse, and some matters of estate planning.

Home care services are an important option for seniors to evaluate when looking at long term care planning needs. Chosen Family Home Care is a supportive at-home care provider for seniors and their loved ones. Through our comprehensive needs assessment and our mission-driven approach, we can determine the best course of action for your loved one, while considering your budget and the individual requirements that seniors need. 

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