What Does Elder Law Even Mean?

The legal professionals at our firm provide elder law and estate planning services. Many community members are familiar with the basics of estate planning. Tasks like designing wills, creating trusts, and putting inheritance plans into place are understood by most when thinking about “later in life” legal issues. However, elder law is a bit less clear. What does it actually mean?

While there are many definitions, a good one was put forward on a recent story on the issue published in Wealth Management. Essentially, the authors of the material suggested that elder law can be reconsidered as “quality of life planning” to maximize the value the last two to three decades of one’s life.

In general this focuses on long-term care. Securing the proper care is critical for seniors to thrive in their golden years. But even though seventy percent of Americans will need long-term care at some point in their lives, the process of obtaining it can be incredibly confusing, complex, and, in some cases, downright impossible. An elder law attorney is responsible for assisting at these times by either putting plans in place early on so that the long-term care is available in the future or working when “on the nursing home doorstep” to protect assets while ensuring the necessary care is available.

Sharing Accurate Information
There is a great need for awareness to be raised among the senior community about the challenges of securing long-term care. A recent AARP survey asked their members how they planned to pay for long-term care–like a nursing home stay–if they needed it. Surprisingly, more than 50% suggested that they planned to rely on Medicare for those costs, as with any other health-related issue. But Medicare does not cover long-term care costs! Those who cannot afford the costs on their own must qualify for Medicaid to pay for their needs. Obviously, much more accurate information needs to be spread about these issues.

More than Medicaid
Beyond figuring out how to pay for a nursing home stay, however, elder law can also be about improving the “quality” of life for a senior, regardless of what that might mean. This includes things like dealing with the potential for cognitive mental challenges (i.e. dementia) and understanding how that might affect one’s family. It could also include things like ensuring proper cash flow, passing on business assets, shifting legal accountability, and more. Beyond simply ensuring proper long-term care, this expansive view of elder law needs helps prepare for a wide-range of issues connected to the process of aging.

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