As with any demographic, there are issues specific to the elderly that other age groups don’t experience in as pressing a way. Elder law is a subset of the law that focuses on these issues that affect elderly people. The exact definition of elderly is up for debate, but know that you don’t have to be an octogenarian or above to deal with the subject matter of elder law. In this post, we will discuss the various legal issues that concern elderly people in particular.
Everyone experiences health issues at some point. Hopefully, these aren’t serious or severe, but they are something we all live with in one way or another. Seniors experience healthcare concerns in a more pressing way. As the sunset of someone’s life begins, long-term care and healthcare decision-making become things to think about.
Long-term care refers to nursing homes or assisted living. Nursing home and assisted living care is not cheap, and picking out a facility you will be comfortable in is no small decision. Legal issues concerning payment for long-term care and disputes about payment and care are subsets of elder law that focus on protecting would-be and current patients.
Care for the Incapacitated
There is always a chance that someone may become so sick or incapacitated that they cannot make decisions for themselves. In this situation, the issues of a living will or healthcare directive come into sharp focus. A healthcare directive is a way to delineate ahead of time your wishes for the nurses and doctors taking care of you. That way, if you are too sick to tell them what you want when you’re in their care, they have a document to refer to.
Asset protection and determining where your assets will go after you pass on is a huge subset of elder law. Wills and trusts are legal instruments that allow you to transfer your assets to your loved ones (or to creditors). Through careful estate planning, you can avoid probate court. Your family will not have to go through that lengthy, unpleasant process, and you will know that your possessions are where you want them to be—not with the state.
Seniors also receive a variety of government or private benefits, such as SSI, veterans’ benefits, disability, and/or pensions. Every senior’s financial package is different, and you want to make sure that you’re getting what is owed to you without delay. Elder law focuses on the disbursement and dispute-resolution of benefits. Again, this is designed to protect the senior beneficiaries.
Gift taxes and estate taxes tend to affect seniors more as they distribute their assets in wills or trusts. Whether you’re exempt from an estate or gift tax is sometimes unclear, and elder law dealing with tax issues will ensure that you do not run afoul of the IRS. Additionally, tax specialists working in elder law can help minimize the tax burden you or your donee will face. No one likes taxes, and if there is a legal way to reduce them, a tax attorney can figure that out for you.
Capacity is a tricky subject, and it often comes into play for seniors who are dealing with memory loss or similar issues. There may be disputes over a senior’s capacity to execute their will or make financial or healthcare decisions for themselves. Elder law protects seniors from inaccurate determinations of their incapacity. Conversely, elder law can protect incapacitated seniors from making decisions that will harm them later on.
Will contests are technically an area of elder law, as the will in question is usually that of a senior who has passed on. Will contests are not overly-uncommon. An estate attorney will help the drafter of the will construct a document that will minimize the chance of a posthumous feud.
These are just some of the legal issues that affect seniors more directly than the rest of the population. This doesn’t mean that someone young shouldn’t take part in estate planning; it just means that elderly people should be aware that there is a whole subset of the law dedicated towards helping them.