What is Elder Law?
Elder law is a legal practice area specializing in issues faced by senior citizens, such as age-related health concerns; long-term care and housing; wills and trusts; Social Security and retirement; and elder abuse. For the most part, elder law attorneys are rarely in court and usually don't litigate. Most of their work is transactional, such as drafting wills and trusts; putting together estate plans; and working on inheritance tax returns. Elder law may also include certain matters involving friends and loved ones of older adults, such as obtaining a power of attorney and caring for parents with dementia.
Some elder law issues can be taken care of without an attorney, including the last will and testament, living trusts, and the health care power of attorney (do-it-yourself forms for sale). But usually it pays to at least consult with an attorney first, if only to get peace of mind before making such important, legally binding decisions.
Terms to Know
- Probate Court: A court that has jurisdiction over the probate of wills and administration of estates and sometimes over the affairs of minors and persons adjudged incompetent.
- Heir: One who inherits or is entitled to succeed to the possession of property after the death of its own.
- Long-Term Care (LTC) Insurance: LTC insurance provides health insurance for extended periods of time, covering expenses that many private insurance policies, Medicaid and Medicare do not cover.
Estate Planning and Wills
Ideally, you want to write a living will while you are still relatively young, especially if you have dependent children. If you die or become incapacitated without a will, then your finances and other matters go into probate, which means the court will decide how your assets are to be distributed and what will happen to your dependents (if you have any). See Using an Estate Planning Attorney to learn more.
Nursing Homes and Elder Care
Helping an elderly loved one with living arrangements can be quite difficult, particularly when medical care is needed or dementia is involved. Choosing the right facility takes time and proper research, but sometimes additional legal help is needed in order to act on behalf of an elderly loved one. Elder lawyers can help draft powers of attorney for health care and/or financial decisions.
Elder abuse is one area that often involves litigation, mainly injury lawsuits against nursing home operators, family members, or others who are responsible for elderly adults. If you spot signs of elder abuse and have reported it, to no avail, you might consider talking to an elder law attorney about your legal options.
Related Practice Areas
If you or a loved one needs help with long-term care, elder abuse, Social Security, or other elder issues, consider contacting an elder law attorney in your area.