It is not uncommon for the average person to fail to recognize when an elder law attorney is needed, due in part to the fact that elder law is a relatively new area of the law. In fact, most people do not know what elder law attorneys actually do, much less how to recognize when they need one. To help prevent you from making that mistake, let’s explore when you might need an elder law attorney.
What Is Elder Law?
As the older population in the United States steadily increased, the need for attorneys that focused on their legal issues became more important as well. Consequently, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, or NAELA, was formed in the late 1980s to better serve them. Five years after the creation of NAELA, the National Elder Law Foundation was formed. The purpose of the non-profit NELF was to help improve the professional skills of attorneys who choose to focus on elder law. Toward that end, NELF then developed a national certification program for attorneys known as the Certified Elder Law Attorney, or CELA, certification program. CELA certification indicates that an attorney has chosen to focus on elder law issues and has gone through the rigorous process of gaining certification.
When Might I Need an Elder Law Attorney?
Seniors face many of the same legal issues that their younger counterparts do; however, they also have some unique legal concerns. Consequently, elder law attorneys do not focus on one specific area of the law as do other attorneys. Instead, they focus on how legal issues impact the elderly and those who care for them. An elder law attorney might be able to help you with:
- Estate planning. Every adult should have a comprehensive estate plan in place; however, the need for estate planning typically increases with age. By the time you reach your retirement years your estate plan should be well grounded and all-inclusive. An elder law attorney can help you make any changes or modifications to your plan that are called for as you age.
- Medi-Cal/long-term care planning. The high cost of long-term care (LTC) often results in the need to rely on Medi-Cal to help pay for that care. Qualifying for Medicaid, however, can put your assets at risk if you failed to plan ahead by incorporating Medi-Cal planning into your estate plan. An elder law attorney can help you create a Medicaid plan or assist with last minute Medi-Cal planning strategies if you did fail to plan ahead.
- Advance directives. If you have strong beliefs regarding end-of-life medical treatment, an advance directive is the best way to ensure that those beliefs will be honored. An advance directive can also allow you to appoint an Agent to make healthcare decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself at some point.
- Elder abuse. As a family member or caregiver, you may come to believe an elderly loved one is the victim of elder abuse or neglect. If so, an elder law attorney can help you to understand your legal options which may include filing a civil lawsuit against the facility.
- Conservatorship. If you are concerned that parent (or other elderly loved one) can no longer safely care for himself/herself and/or manage his/her finances, it may be time to consider petitioning for conservatorship. An elder law attorney can help you make the difficult decision to become a guardian.
Please download our FREE estate planning checklist. If you have additional questions or concerns about elder law, contact us at the Northern California Center for Estate Planning & Elder Law by calling (916)-437-3500 or by filling out our online contact form.