What is Elder Law?
By Lori A. Leu, Collin and North Dallas LIVING WELL Magazines
So often people will say that they did not know they needed an attorney who practices elder law, or even that such an area of the law exists. Elder law is not a new type of law, but it is a relatively new way to bring several areas of the law together to benefit a particular group of people – older adults. If you have wondered about elder law and how it differs from estate planning or other related legal services, this will help you gain a better understanding and help you know if you would benefit from using an elder law attorney.
Elder law is first and foremost about empowering seniors. Elder law services enable you to make your own choices and decisions about managing life as you age. Everyone wants to have some control over the future, and elder law helps you do just that. The main areas that elder law affects include your living arrangements, your financial well-being, your healthcare options, and your ultimate disposition of assets.
Housing – No one knows exactly what the future holds, but the key to feeling secure is to keep all your options open. There are a wide range of living arrangements for seniors, from retirement communities to assisted living facilities to skilled nursing facilities. Some people want to stay in their own home as long as possible and bring in outside help to make that possible. Others want the freedom from home maintenance that a senior residence complex can offer. Elder law services can help you weigh all the options and make sure you have the right plans in place so you can have control over your living arrangements.
Finances – Money matters can be especially complex for seniors. It’s so important to plan carefully and preserve your assets for when you need them the most. If you have a pension or other private retirement fund, will it be enough to pay all your expenses? If you plan to rely on government benefits, such as Social Security or Veterans Benefits, do you know how much you are eligible for each month and how to access what you are entitled to receive? Have you designated individuals to act on your behalf in financial and legal matters through a proper durable power of attorney so that your desires can be protected if you cannot act for yourself? Elder law encompasses all of these decisions within the context of planning for long-term care – a very different financial and legal arena.
Health – Healthcare in the U.S. has become one of the most confusing and uncertain issues we have to face. If you have private insurance that covers medical expenses or long-term care, you need to be sure that changing laws and regulations won’t affect your coverage. If you rely on Medicare and additional Medicare supplements or advantage plans to pay your healthcare costs, what will happen if these programs are affected by budget cuts or new eligibility requirements? Veterans may be eligible for additional government programs to cover their medical expenses. Elder law covers these issues, and can also help you outline your wishes for health-related decisions through a medical power of attorney and advance directives.
Disposition of Assets – Elder law includes estate planning issues such as wills, trusts, and property transfers. As time passes and circumstances change, it is often necessary to make changes to your plans for the disposition of your assets. Further, depending upon the government benefits for which you may be eligible, changes may be needed to your plans for disposition of assets to ensure your long-term desires are met.
If you think you would benefit from a review of your options in any of these categories, consult a qualified elder law attorney in your area.
Lori Leu is an elder law attorney with Lori A. Leu & Associates serving Plano and North Dallas. She can be reached at 972-996-2540.