What is Elder Law?

Posted by Sheri Tucker, M.S., J.D.Mar 30, 20210 Comments

People often ask the question, “What is Elder Law?” Before diving into the areas of elder law, I have to say that the state of Missouri does not recognize specializations. However, does this mean that a client should not research the attorney who focuses on this practice area of law? Absolutely not! Let's take a look at what is elder law and why one needs an experienced attorney in the area of elder law.

Defining Elder Law

Elder law is a complex legal representation of Seniors and those with disabilities. It addresses specific law issues related to aging and disabilities. Elder law is more about who is served rather than what casework is performed.  The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA.org) considers the practice area unique. Why? It involves working with a vulnerable age group facing mental and physical health conditions and memory issues that require special care and planning.  In addition, NAELA defines the attorney group who works with Seniors as Elder Law Attorneys and hosts a directory of elder law attorneys.  Attorney membership in NAELA requires adherence to ethical standards in order to provide the highest quality legal representation.  

Why Elder Law?

Baby Boomers are growing older.  After all, the life path is a one-way direction of moving forward to an end point.  The need to provide legal counseling is growing exponentially.

Today, nearly 6 million Americans live with Alzheimer's.  Alzheimer's increases over the age of 65 years old and 1 in 10 struggle with incapacity   Women tend to have a higher risk  However, there are 200,000 cases each year of new cases for people under 65 years old with cases in people who are in their 30s, 40, and 50s. An estate plan with financial and health care powers of attorney protects a person during life. For Seniors more is required.

It's More than Estate Planning

Estate Planning is for everyone, single people, couples, partners, and families. Estate Planning covers the essential life plan, the Last Will and Testament, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, or Guardianship for minor children. A basic estate plan is a start for those under the age of 65 years old. Elder law is advanced estate planning for a different community.

A basic estate plan makes your wishes known. But it's not a “one size fits all,” solution for seniors.

Elder Law is a holistic approach to the care of special Senior issues and people with disabilities. Seniors may face memory issues, long-term care needs and planning, elder abuse, and financial exploitation. Seniors may need advanced planning with Medicaid or even VA benefits. A person in his or her late 50's may have an early onset of dementia, be a military veteran, and possess assets.  One must ask, “What is the best plan for the client?”  A person with a disability requires different types of planning for special needs and perhaps government benefits. Knowledge and experience are necessary beyond basic estate planning.

Senior Citizen Issues

The Senior Citizen community is typically defined as those who are over the age of 65 years old.  However, seniors with early onset of dementia and Alzheimer's also fit within the community. Counseling and advocacy with senior issues requires the use of a broad knowledge base.  The elder law attorney relies on a variety of legal and social disciplines such as psychology and social work to problem solve and help families.

There are attorneys who dabble in estate planning and estate planning attorneys who dabble in elder law.

A solid foundation in estate planning is needed and then advanced estate planning provides the structure to protect seniors and vulnerable people with disabilities. Estate planning relies on caselaw changes, tax law changes, and statutory changes for planning. The focus is more on the “what is needed and why,” rather than “who is served and how.” Elder law attorneys may even drill down in certain areas of work such as abuse and exploitation, special needs, VA benefits, or even Medicaid planning.

Therefore, it is important to work with an attorney who understands estate planning, and one who works in elder law to address a plethora of potential issues.

Who is the Elder Law Client?

Often the question arises, “Who is the client?” When working with families who have a member with a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer's, the attorney must keep in mind that the adult children are not the client. The client is the parent with diminished mental capacity or severe disability. The elder law attorney has a difficult role, to protect the client's best interests, to work with competing family member desires, and prepare the best solutions to help solve problems. Often, your elder law attorney uses a team approach with outside sources to help with long-term care planning, housing, and financial wealth protection. The attorney tailors a working plan for the client and addresses family concerns. Learn more through our Powers of Attorney in Elder Law FAQ.

Your Personal Care Attorney

It is not always easy to tell a Senior citizen that a Last Will and Testament or a beneficiary deed is the best plan. As a member of NAELA, I aspire to provide you with solutions to your issues and needs. When a health crisis strikes, I offer multiple solutions and advise on best courses of planning. I am your personal care attorney in elder law. Call me at 314-332-0011 for a complimentary consultation or book now.