Why Hire an Elder Law Attorney?

Elder law attorneys may specialize in estate planning, incapacity planning, and end-of-life care for seniors. They also help older adults remain in their homes as they age and protect them from abuse.     

These practitioners are essential because they work to protect a vulnerable population. To plan for their future and their care, seniors and their families should consider hiring an elder law attorney.

How Can an Elder Law Attorney Help My Aging Loved One?

Having a plan for your aging loved one’s care can relieve anxiety for you and the senior. Elder law attorneys can help their clients by providing some of the following services:

Long-Term Care Planning

The number of Americans living past age 65 has exponentially increased over the past few decades and will continue to grow over the next few years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there will be more than 80 million seniors in the U.S. by 2040.  This increase requires more people to pay close attention to the need for long-term care planning.

An elder law attorney can help seniors create a plan to pay for their care needs for the rest of their lives. Many seniors may worry about a lack of financial resources to pay for food, rent, medical care, and transportation in the years to come. Others hope to stay in their homes as they age but aren’t sure what the options may be for in-home care if it becomes necessary.

An elder law attorney can help you create a customized plan for your needs and assist you in allocating money to pay for the essentials as you age. In addition, with expertise specific to elder law at the federal level and in your state, they can aid you in determining what public benefits you could qualify for, such as Medicaid and Medicare, and help you successfully apply for them.

Estate Planning Document Preparation

Most people contact an elder law attorney whose expertise includes estate planning when they need end-of-life documents drafted. Yet it is smart to start estate planning when you are still healthy. Once a person has become incapacitated they may not be legally capabable of signing such documents as a will or trust or power of attorney, thus making it much more difficult for family or loved ones to know or carry out their wishes. So the best plan is to take care of this now, while you are healthy and capable, authorizing a person in the future to make decisions if you cannot.

Elder law attorneys may draft for their clients such documents as a last will and testamenthealth care directive, and power of attorney. By carefully crafting these documents, an attorney can help protect a senior’s legal rights when it comes to their retirement benefits, estate administration, and medical decision-making authority.

At the same time, having a comprehensive estate plan in place may not only ease the stress your family members encounter upon your passing, but also help them avoid any potential disputes regarding their inheritance.

Create a Plan for Incapacity

A related piece of the puzzle is incapacity planning. This could mean having an elder law attorney advise you on documenting your wishes for care at the end of your life, in the wake of a disability, or after a diagnosis of dementia.

For instance, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, 6.7 million Americans aged 65 and older suffer with Alzheimer’s disease. As the senior population increases across the United States, the number of seniors with memory care needs will likewise increase.

People with memory issues may reach a stage when they can no longer care for themselves. It is essential to have a plan in place for when a senior is incapacitated.

An elder law attorney can assist seniors and their families as they try and protect the senior’s financial and physical well-being as their condition progresses.

Guardianship

Elder law attorneys help family members and older adults with guardianship.

This may include a situation in which an older adult has dementia or another condition affecting decision-making. In such a case, an elder law attorney can help a concerned family member obtain guardianship. This includes securing a physician’s report, petitioning the court, and attending one or more hearings.

An older adult might sometimes dispute guardianship, asserting continued decision-making capacity and wishing to maintain autonomy. Elder law attorneys representing older adults can present evidence to the court regarding their clients’ capacity to handle their own affairs.

The attorney may also help support an older adult’s autonomy by recommending less restrictive alternatives to guardianship. These alternative options include limited guardianship and supported decision-making. Supported decision-making provides aid while preserving individuals’ rights.

Combating Elder Abuse and Exploitation

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified elder abuse as a public health problem. Elders experience physical, sexual, and financial abuse, as well as confinement and neglect, per the National Council on Aging.

According to the WHO, one in six adults 60 and older experience abuse in community settings. High abuse rates have been reported within nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Within the past year alone, two out of three staff members reported incidents of abuse.

The National Council on Aging reports that elder financial abuse results in $2.6 billion to $36.5 billion in costs to older adults annually.

Seniors who are victims of elder abuse, whether at the hands of a family member or in a long-term care facility, are protected by the law. Elder law attorneys know the rights of nursing home residents and seniors under guardianship, are familiar with the tools that can protect you and your assets, and can help you connect with other advocates.

In addition to taking legal action against abusers, elder law attorneys can help their clients safeguard themselves against abuse.

For instance, an attorney might recommend using a transfer-on-death deed (sometimes called a Ladybird Deed)  to pass down a home rather than making a family member a joint tenant. Using this instrument allows a person to maintain full ownership of their home, protecting themselves from financial abuse.

An attorney can also help a client prepare advanced directives and appoint a trusted loved one as a health care representative. Creating advance directives reduces the risk that a court will appoint a guardian over the individual if they get sick, which would restrict the individual’s rights.

What to Look for in Elder Law Attorneys

It is vital to know what to look for when you are hiring an elder law attorney. You want to have the best partner helping you protect yourself or your loved one. Here are some tips when looking for an elder law attorney:

  • Schedule a consult with the attorney to make sure  you feel confident  and comfortable working with the attorney and staff.

  • Make sure the attorney handles the specific area of practice that is related to your matter (e.g., guardianship, medicaid planning, etc.)

  • Get a referral from a friend or search for a qualified elder law attorney in your area.

Keeping your elderly loved ones safe is essential to supporting their care and protecting their legacy. Hiring an elder law attorney you trust can help you accomplish this and keep your parents, grandparents, or other aging relatives protected. 

Wenzel Bennett & Harris, PC offers Long Term Care Planning Consults and also Estate Planning Consults to help you understand your options. You are welcome to call our office to schedule a consultation at (989) 356-6128 and speak with Mallory, our client care specialist.

If you have specific questions about your situation or would like to learn more, reach out to the team at WBH here.

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