Courtesy Leu & Peirce, PLLC
May is “National Elder Law Month,” a national initiative sponsored by the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) designed to spotlight seniors and the issues they face. NAELA was formed in 1987 in response to the growing legal needs of older adults, people with special needs, and their families. Since its inception, membership in NAELA has grown to more than 4,000 members and 27 active chapters, commensurate with the needs of the fastest growing segment of the American population. For the next twenty years, an average of 10,000 people will turn 65 every day. NAELA devotes most of its resources to the education and training of attorneys who can address and advocate for the needs of seniors and those with special needs – Elder Law attorneys.
“Elder Law” is defined by a type of client, rather than a type of law. Attorneys who primarily work with seniors appreciate the complex financial and social decisions their clients face. Elder Law attorneys bring to their practice a knowledge of their clients that allows them to ignore the myths related to aging and the competence of seniors, while empathizing with some of the true physical and mental difficulties that often accompany the aging process. Elder Law attorneys are also usually tied into a community of support agencies and organizations, such as geriatric care managers, psychologists, and other professionals who may be of assistance to seniors and their families.
Elder Law encompasses many different fields of law, including the following:
Estate Planning. Everyone should plan for the future, regardless of their income or asset level. The law is changing constantly in this area. Books and websites with pre-printed forms are not always up to date, and the documents available from these sources may not work in your State or meet your goals. Elder Law attorneys have special training and expertise in estate and disability planning, and are sensitive to the special needs of seniors and their families. A comprehensive estate plan includes several documents that together ensure your wishes are followed and people are in place to assist you if you are no longer able to act:
- A Will declares your intentions regarding the distribution of your property after you die.
- A Durable Power of Attorney appoints an agent to act on your behalf regarding financial and legal matters.
- A Medical Power of Attorney appoints an agent to make health care decisions for you, if you are unable to do so yourself.
- A HIPAA Release and Authorizationnames individuals who may access your health information.
- A Directive to Physicians (Living Will)provides direction to your agent under the medical power of attorney regarding your desires about life-sustaining treatment.
- A Declaration of Guardiannames individuals you trust to be appointed your guardian, if necessary, as well as individuals who should never be appointed.
Public Benefits (Medicaid/VA). Available healthcare choices depend on your specific situation and needs. Elder Law attorneys can help you ensure the proper level of care, and explore payment options and eligibility for public benefits.
Guardianship. If you become unable to make important decisions for yourself, or are subject to exploitation by unscrupulous people, it may be necessary for a court to appoint a guardian. Elder Law attorneys can help you determine if a guardianship is necessary or whether other alternatives are available.
Probate/Estate Administration. After the death of a loved one, the legalities involved in distributing the estate can seem overwhelming. If title to assets needs to be transferred, a probate court proceeding will usually be required. The type of proceeding depends on whether a Will exists, the details of its terms, the existence of debts, and the value of the estate. Elder Law attorneys can help you understand your options.
Elder Law attorneys specialize in helping seniors and their families address the personal and often complicated legal issues related to financial and medical care. Because of their concentration in this area, attorneys whose sole focus is Elder Law are more likely to have the legal tools and techniques necessary to meet the objectives of an older client. If you, or someone you love, need to visit with an Elder Law attorney, local agencies and support programs, such as the Alzheimer’s Association, State or local Bar organizations, or the NAELA website, are good places to look for a referral. Visit www.naela.org for more information on NAELA and Elder Law in general.
Lori A. Leu, Erin W. Peirce, Lauren E. Olson, and Laura J. Chavero are Elder Law attorneys with Leu & Peirce, PLLC in Plano, Texas. They help clients sort through these issues every day. For more information, call 972-996-2540 or visit www.LeuLawFirm.com.