Elder Law 4/23/2010
The basics of Elder Law:
Thousands of federal and state laws govern the many decisions made by or on the behalf of seniors. Whether navigating the Social Security system, looking out for an elder's money and property, discussing powers of attorney and living wills or dealing with questions of long-term care, you will run into a tangle of legal rights and obligations. These various requirements can be confusing and sometimes conflicting.
Elder law is a legal specialty to help seniors and their caregivers make the right decisions. For example, it takes only a few simple steps for a senior to protect home and savings from being depleted to cover long-term care. An attorney specializing in elder law can improve your life and your senior's by explaining the best way to prepare for every eventuality. A strong legal safety net will reduce stress and save time and money at crucial points. Elder law experts and resources are widely available; depending upon the complexity of your situation, you may need to consult a lawyer.
What areas does Elder Law address?
- Is a senior making the most of health insurance options, including private policies, Medicare, Medicaid, disability and prescription coverage? What is the proper procedure for appealing adverse decisions?
- What rights does a nursing home patient have?
- What is the best way to ensure that the appropriate people have the legal power to make prompt medical and financial decisions when a senior no longer can? How does a senior set up a living will and durable powers of attorney?
- Is a senior getting the full benefit from pensions, investments and Social Security? How can those benefits be passed along to survivors with a minimum of hassles and expense?
- How will you know when to ask a judge to appoint a guardian or conservator to handle the affairs of an incapacitated senior? And how do you make it happen?
- If you will be handling a will, trusts or other means of transferring a senior's money and property, are the documents in order? Are they the right ones to accomplish the senior's desires and avoid unnecessary taxes or legal hang-ups?
- Is a lawyer always necessary?
Depending upon how much work you and the senior can do on your own, legal assistance may not be necessary. A huge amount of free information and simple do-it-yourself legal documents are available in self-help books, on the Internet, from government agencies and from private organizations devoted to the concerns of the ill and aging. But the terminology and legalese can be daunting, and many complex federal and state laws come into play. It's essential to know the law before you and the senior make your decisions - and sometimes it pays to do your homework and then consult briefly with a lawyer. This keeps your legal costs down but assures that no costly or painful surprises will pop up later when it may be too late to make changes.
If you hire an attorney, does it have to be an Elder Law specialist?
No. Many attorneys understand the legal issues related to trusts, investments, insurance, disability, discrimination and so on. But when it comes to many areas, including wills, long-term care and housing concerns, asset preservation, retirement planning, durable powers of attorney and taxation, you may make different decisions depending upon factors such as age and health. Elder law attorneys can be better attuned to an older person's needs, more aware of the subtleties involved and more knowledgeable about the intricacies of the law as it applies specifically to a senior's situation.
What Elder Law resources are available?
The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (http://www.naela.org/) has a nationwide directory of practitioners in all aspects of elder law. Ask any lawyers you contact about their areas of expertise and experience. Even within the area of elder law, some attorneys may specialize. You don't want a tax expert if what you really need is to set up a conservatorship or guardianship.
Additional resources may be available through your local Agency on Aging office.
By phone, you can call the 2-1-1 Idaho CareLine by dialing 2-1-1 or 1-800-926-2588 to get the contact information of your local Agency on Aging offices.
You can search for your local Agency on Aging office contact information in the 2-1-1 Idaho CareLine online database.