According to the US Census Bureau, more than 51 million Americans are currently aged 65 or older, and the number is steadily increasing while medical and technological advancements are allowing seniors to live longer and better lives than ever before. The expanding needs of the US aging population are contributing to an increase the complexity and availability of federal and/or state programs designed to assist seniors. Every senior has a unique set of facts and circumstances that influence and inform their planning as they age. An important part of creating a successful plan for aging is to retain the services of an elder law attorney.
How can an elder law attorney assist you? An elder law attorney provides overarching coordination for the financial, legal and health care decisions that seniors face. Finding and paying for long-term care is something that many seniors and their family members fail to plan for, which can result in running out of money or not being able to secure care in an appropriate setting. Seniors or their families should seek legal assistance well before there is a need for long-term care of a loved one in order to better plan for what type of long-term care is desired and how it will be paid for. While an elder law attorney cannot be a specialist in all facets of an individual’s plan for aging, they work in conjunction with other specialists, such as independent care managers and financial services professionals, to aid in meeting a senior’s specific needs or requirements.
Elder law attorneys can prepare any number of estate planning documents, including medical and financial powers of attorney, and advanced health care directives, all of which are critical in the event a senior would become cognitively impaired and be unable to make their own personal decisions. In addition, elder law attorneys can help coordinate the selection process to aid in locating the appropriate Long-term care facility and, as critically, assist in creating a plan based on the senior’s assets to cover the cost of any needed long-term care. The planning of an elder law attorney may include the use of certain means-tested government programs, such as Medicaid and/or VA pension benefits, to aid in paying for long-term care costs, while seeking to protect senior’s estate (a portion of) in order to provide a financial legacy to their loved ones.
Elder law attorneys also assist with guardianships if a senior is no longer capable of making informed decisions regarding their health, living, and financial affairs, and no one has been previously designated to do so under any medical or financial power of attorney. Guardianships are normally a last resort, as they are costly, require court involvement for the lifetime of the incapacitated person, and could result in a worst care scenario of a public administrator to oversee all of the person’s decision-making. Ideally, a senior will have proper estate planning documents in place to avoid a guardianship, but unfortunately this isn’t always the case.
A properly drafted long-term care estate plan can help avoid a guardianship, as the estate planning documents make sure there are proper agents named to make financial and medical decisions when or if a senior could not do so. A properly drafted long-term care plan will also address how long-term care will be paid for, and whether assistance with government benefits is appropriate or feasible.
Choosing the right attorney is essential for a senior, as well as his or her family. Because of the unique planning issues senior’s face or may experience, it is best that they work with an elder law attorney. In considering an elder law attorney, it is important to consider 1) how long the attorney has specifically practiced elder law and 2) if they have a particular specialty such as veteran’s benefits, Medicaid, estate planning or probate expertise. A senior should also seek an elder law attorney whose practice is dedicated to elder law, as this area of law is often changing and it is important to have an attorney who is on top of the latest rule changes and legal developments.
Selecting the right elder law attorney will make a significant impact on a senior’s plan for successful aging. Starting the planning process well in advance of the time a senior anticipates a medical care crisis or the need for long-term care is instrumental in creating an effective long-term care estate plan.
The Laiderman Law Firm, P.C. uses a unique process that is built around the belief that people who care make plans that work. This means designing plans that are in agreement with what clients want and having a process to keep their plans up to date with changes in their family, their finances, and the law. This unique process also focuses on making sure that clients’ assets and beneficiaries are consistent with their plan.
If we can help you or a loved one with your elder law or other estate planning needs, please contact the attorneys at The Laiderman Law Firm, P.C.