Elder Law attorneys are competent, caring and compassionate professionals. The practice of Elder Law focuses on the overall view of what is best for older clients and their families.
As the number of older individuals increases, the need is growing for specialized legal advice about aging-related issues. This topics typically include retirement income, long-term care, lifestyle and housing needs, taxation, IRAs, and Social Security and Medicare. In addition, legal documents such as wills, trusts, medical directives, and financial powers of attorney are important topics seniors should discuss with their Elder Law Attorney.
Generally there are 3 primary types of Elder Law planning, as follows:
- Planning ahead for the senior years. The client is healthy and age 50 or older with a concern about planning ahead. This becomes even more important when entering your 60’s and 70’s, when the client is a health vigorous senior. This is driven more by health than age. Families are concerned about having enough money to live on for retirement. They want to never run out of money, because if they run out of money they run out of options. Generally the right plan will combine legal and financial strategies to leverage both private pay and public benefits. This type of senior estate planning combines traditional estate planning with planning ahead for future care costs in retirement. There is also a focus on planning for IRA distributions to best benefit the client and family.
- After receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or facing other problems with memory or mobility. For a senior with memory or mobility problems, the focus will shift to long-term care planning rather than more traditional estate planning. For families who cannot afford to pay $75,000 or more per year for nursing home care, this often means planning ahead to protect the homeplace and preserve retirement savings if Medicaid will be needed later. Generally outright gifts to children are not advisable, but various types of revocable and irrevocable trusts can be helpful. In addition, for married couples, the concern should be to make certain that the ill spouse will receive care and not run out of money, if the healthy spouse dies first. For families who have substantial assets, the plan may be to never need Medicaid. In those situations, the focus will be to ensure that the assets can be managed even if the senior becomes incapacitated, and to pay for care in a tax efficient manner.
- When confronted by a care crisis. When your spouse or parent needs assisted living or nursing home care, you’ll want to find the right place for care for your loved one, get the best care there and pay for it without going broke. Often this involved applying for Medicaid and Veterans benefit to help cover the costs of care. Be sure to get help from an experience Elder Law attorney who helps families through these applications and preserves assets. Too many people get their Medicaid advice from the Medicaid office, or nursing homes, or from a well-meaning friend or relative who has gone through their own situation. Often the price they pay for not getting the right professional help is that they spend tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars unnecessarily on care. Often a married couple can protect their homeplace, and nearly all of the couple’s assets so the ill spouse gets their care, so the healthy spouse doesn’t have to worry about becoming impoverished and losing their retirement nest egg.
When looking for an Elder Law attorney, consider whether the attorney has specialized in this area of law. You should look for a Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) who has been certified as a specialist by the National Elder Law Foundation. In addition, North Carolina certifies Elder Law Attorneys as “Board Certified Specialists” through a program of the North Carolina State Bar. There is an invitation only group of Elder Law Attorneys, called the Council of Advanced Practitioners (CAP) that is a select group of members of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.
Elder Law involves assisting in some or all of 13 key areas, including:
- Estate Planning and Probate
- Estate and Gift Tax Planning
- Entitlement Programs
- Retirement Benefits
- Age Discrimination
- Elder Abuse/Neglect
- Long Term Care Financing
- Medical Decision Making
- Disability Planning