Elder law covers all of the issues that either specifically or more frequently impact people over the age of 65 (though that age is not a hard limit—those under sixty-five can take advantage of elder law). An elder law attorney deals with a wide variety of legal issues, including long-term care planning, retirement, guardianship, healthcare, Social Security, Medicaid/Medicare, and other, similar issues. Disabled people are also covered under many of the same laws as the elderly, as there is often an overlap between the two groups.
In these uncertain times, elderly people are at their most vulnerable. According to the CDC, older adults are at the “highest risk” if they contract coronavirus. The risk for several illness due to coronavirus increases as one ages. It’s important to understand how elder law can help you during these times.
Below, you’ll see an overview of what elder law entails.
Elder Law vs. Estate Planning
The purposes and goals of elder law and estate planning are different. Elder law helps an elderly person attain financial autonomy and freedom through proper financial and medical planning. This area of legal practice tries to help place the elder individual in as stable a situation as possible in the financial, medical, and legal aspects of their lives.
To be frank, the main difference between elder law and estate planning is that the latter is for use after you die, while elder law is for the living. Estate planning deals with what will happen to your assets after you die, while elder law is concerned with the here and now.
Should I Hire an Elder Law Attorney?
If you or your loved one are aging and beginning to encounter issues pertaining to Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, long-term care, and other elder-specific issues, you might consider hiring an elder law attorney. Having essential legal documents in place will allow you to keep your autonomy to the greatest extent possible. A lawyer can ensure these documents are drawn up correctly and in a way that advantages you. The lawyer has your best interests at heart. Other parties might not.
Where Does the AARP Come In?
The AARP provides free legal counsel to many of its members, depending on where you live. For example, Washington D.C. residents have the benefit of a free hotline that helps seniors who have legal questions. These services also include fighting foreclosures, evictions, obtaining SSI, Medicaid, and VA benefits, and advocating for nursing home residents.
The AARP might also offer programs that will help you prepare power of attorney and will documents. The AARP is a valuable resource for seniors, so check in at your local headquarters to see what kind of services they offer.
Other Serious Issues with Which Elder Law Deals
A very serious area that elder law practitioners deal with is elder abuse. This includes emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as neglect/abandonment, financial exploitation, and healthcare fraud. Neglect, according to the NCOA (National Council on Aging) is the most common form of elder abuse.
The NCOA also has found that one in ten elders are abused yearly, but only one in fourteen cases of elder abuse are reported to the police. It is impossible to talk about the important of elder law without mentioning that elder law practitioners will help you if you or your loved one is suffering abuse—or if you suspect abuse.
This guide is by no means the be-all, end-all of elder law, but it has hopefully helped shine a light on how elder law can help you and/or your loved one. Contact an attorney for more situation-specific questions, as no one legal issue is the same.