With the graying of the U.S. population, and with Americans living longer than ever, it’s no wonder issues pertaining to the elderly have evolved into a dedicated legal arena. Legislation and policies affecting the elderly are frequently changing, such as those related to Medicaid for long-term care and benefits programs for Veterans.
Rapidly changing laws and regulations mean it is important to work with an attorney who is experienced in the many facets of Elder Law. Sometimes older Americans simply need assistance navigating the maze of “red tape” and bureaucracy often associated with insurance and government-sponsored programs. Surprisingly, the general public may not be aware of the many areas in which an Elder Law attorney can provide assistance, acting on their behalf as a trusted fiduciary. Experienced Elder law attorneys typically advise clients with:
- Estate planning and administration, including wills, trusts, asset protection and tax advice
- Wealth preservation, retirement planning and the impact of government, welfare and entitlement programs such as social security, Medicare, Medicaid, disability and Veteran’s benefits
- Housing issues including real estate and mortgage assistance and landlord/tenant laws
- Long-term care, end-of-life planning, in-home care, assisted living and nursing home concerns
- Protection of rights and prevention of physical, emotional and financial abuse
As a person ages, and his or her faculties decline, it becomes especially important for an advocate to protect that person’s best interests. Recommended legal tools for advocacy include living trusts, special needs trusts, advance medical directives and powers of attorney, which I wrote about in another column, as well as guardianships and conservatorships. Let me address these last two now. If an adult becomes incapable of making responsible decisions due to a mental disability, the court may appoint a substitute decision maker, called the guardian and conservator, to make legal, financial, and health care decisions for that person. A conservator may be appointed to handle only finances. After a petition has been filed with the court to appoint a guardian or conservator, but before the hearing takes place, the judge appoints a guardian ad litem. The guardian ad litem is an attorney whose role is to protect the rights of the respondent. In most cases these proceedings can be avoided with proper planning.
If you or a loved one is entering your golden years or suffering from a chronic health problem, I encourage you to seek the advice of a competent Elder Law attorney. I find this part of my practice to be particularly fulfilling and I am available for consultation on these matters.