What is Elder Law?

With the aging of America’s Baby Boomers (and older Gen Xers hitting AARP age), elder law and estate planning are two of the biggest areas going in law and finance. This article answers the following questions:

  • What is elder law?
  • What is elder care law?
  • What is elder abuse law?

What Is Elder Law?

According to the U.S. Census, there are at least 13.8 million seniors age 65 and up living in the United States, and that population is growing. Elder law arose out of the need to protect this vulnerable population from neglect and abuse. It’s also a specialization for attorneys who handle end-of-life services such as estate planning, wills and trusts, healthcare power of attorney, and long-term care issues.

Definition of Elder Law

Elder law deals with issues that affect older people and elder law planning helps to prepare older Americans for autonomy, financial freedom, and better long-term care choices.

The definition of elder law includes a specialization in which some attorneys advocate for seniors and educate their clients on their rights under the law. These attorneys connect seniors to programs that could help them secure healthcare, long-term care and other services.

What is Elder Law Specialization About?

The Older Americans Act passed in 1965 recognized the rights of seniors to certain services and advocated for those suffering from financial, physical, mental or emotional abuse, among other issues. Elder law attorneys may handle elder law cases exclusively or include it in their practice areas.

Elder law attorneys can help older Americans and their families with issues related to guardianship, long term care planning, Social Security, retirement, Medicaid and other matters. It’s advisable to see an elder law attorney for important financial and estate planning stages. Elder law attorneys specialize in the needs of the elderly and help them prepare for end of life legally and financially. These attorneys can also help with day-to-day issues such as health care, assisted living and planning.

Typically, elder law attorneys have specialized training to handle the emotional and physical needs of disabled and older Americans. A number of challenging situations can arise when advocating for these clients. Paralegals and other professionals in this field may also have specialized training to deal with older clients with patience and empathy.

Elder law attorneys can help older clients by:

  • Preparing wills and estate planning, which includes the care of dependents with special needs, avoiding probate proceedings, setting up trusts and other vital tasks.
  • Drafting a durable power of attorney for a chosen person to represent the interests of the elderly client should they become incapacitated mentally or physically.
  • Assisting with long term care options, Medicare, housing, patient rights, living wills, and health care power of attorney.
  • Setting up durable financial power of attorney, estate, income, estate, and gift tax issues.
  • Providing legal advice on guardianship, including the appointment of a legal guardian.
  • Locating long term care facilities and minimizing long-term care.
  • Explaining rights of elderly and legal recourse.
  • Drafting advance directives for end of life wishes.
  • Protecting the elderly from abusive situations.

What is Elder Care Law?

Another important part of elder law is the care of elderly clients. The power of attorney gives a designated person the right to make financial decisions on behalf of the older person. Lawyers can draft a power of attorney that takes effect immediately and can help avoid the exploitation of incapacitated people.

A healthcare power of attorney gives directions for respecting the wishes of the older person in case they become physically incapacitated due to a medical situation. With this documentation in place, physicians can carry out the wishes of the patient even if they are unconscious or unable to make decisions for themselves. Elder law attorneys explained the impacts of these instruments and help clients prepare for end-of-life medical conditions.

What is Elder Abuse Law?

Federal and state governments including the District of Columbia have statutes protecting older adults in the case of neglect, psychological abuse, abandonment and financial exploitation. Elder abuse law can protect older Americans by acting on the wishes of loved ones to intervene in the case of abuse or exploitation.

In cases of civil financial exploitation, there are statutes that define who is eligible for protection. The states vary in how they interpret financial exploitation and the penalties for violating these laws. However, they all aim to protect older Americans from being taken advantage of due to infirmity, mental capacity or emotional manipulation.

The field of elder law has numerous job opportunities including elder law attorneys, paralegals, and social workers specializing in the advocacy of older Americans. Salaries in this field are competitive and there are also emotional rewards for those who want to protect some of the most vulnerable and deserving people in their care.

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