How an Elder Care Attorney Can Prepare Families for the Future
You watch as your father struggles with his memory and worry about how he is managing his finances and health. When you push to discuss these issues, he says he's fine and dismisses your concern. You know he’s not, though, and there are many open questions around his estate, health decisions and finances.
When a parent resists advice from his or her children, an elder care attorney can step in to help smooth the way. Ideally your senior loved one will work with you, but a senior care lawyer can help navigate these delicate situations if not. Some questions a lawyer can help with include: Who will take care of me when I can’t take care of myself? What happens when I need long-term care? How do I manage my Medicaid benefits?
Taking proactive measures with an attorney on these matters might minimize complications later. Here is a brief primer on elder care lawyers and how they are instrumental in helping your loved one navigate the future.
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What does an elder care attorney do?
The primary focus of an elder care attorney is to implement safeguards for quality of life as an individual grows older. Elder care attorneys focus on a holistic approach to aging well through challenging circumstances by addressing long-term health needs, housing and financial issues. This may include discussing the legal implications about guardianship, Medicaid, Medicare claims and appeals, disability planning, estate planning, nursing home issues, elder abuse and fraud, and retirement.
Each state has specific rules on what can and cannot be included in a trust, durable, financial or medical power of attorney, or will. Navigating this complex litigation may be tough for an individual caregiver or family caregiver. An elder care attorney anticipates issues that may come up in the future and helps to plan prior to a crisis.
Elder care lawyers can also step in when discussions about declining health and navigating finances become too heated between family members. They can help ensure that the autonomy of the senior is respected while also addressing concerns of family members.
When should you consult an elder care lawyer?
According to Harry Margolis, the founder of Boston-based law firm Margolis & Bloom and founding president of ElderLawAnswers, families should consider seeking an elder care attorney when you begin to anticipate a need for long-term care of a loved one, or if you are wondering how to qualify for government benefits. If you’re worried about a time when you can’t take care of your finances or other affairs on your own, a consultation with an elder care attorney is advised.
Jody Gastfriend, vice president of senior care at Care.com, talks about finding an elder care attorney in her book My Parent’s Keeper.
"An elder law attorney specializes in the complex legal and financial issues impacting seniors. Most can handle a wide range of issues such as Medicaid eligibility (which can vary by state), estate planning, and the delegation of healthcare decision making in the event of incompetency. There are about ten thousand lawyers in the United States who specialize in elder law, but how do you find one who is the right fit for your family? While it is best to get a referral from a trusted source, there are websites such as the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and Elder Law Answers that provide worthwhile information and a list of elder law attorneys by state.”
What questions should you ask an elder care attorney?
Finding the right elder care lawyer is important, not only for future planning, but for your pocketbook. Margolis recommends the following questions before seeking representation:
- How long have you practiced elder law? What is your specialty? Remember some elder care attorneys are versed in Medicaid, while others are experienced in wills, trusts or probate issues. Finding the lawyer that fits your needs is key.
- What segment of your practice is dedicated to elder care law? While attorneys typically practice in several different areas of law, you want a representative that is well versed in current developments.
- How much will it cost to retain you? Ask about fees at the initial consultation. Although some attorneys may not be able to provide a comprehensive quote without studying your particular issue, they should offer a range of fees for services. Comparison shop between different firms until you find the right fit. Also, ask if you will be charged for phone calls and emails. Some attorneys charge by the hour, while others have a flat fee for representation.
- Will you be part of the entire process, including drafting the legal documents and defending them (if necessary) in court? Some attorneys will not litigate in court if a potential issue arises. Discuss whether additional fees are required for appearing in court.
- What if I need assistance at home? Do you make house calls? How much does it cost?
Which documents do you need to provide?
If available, the following documents will prove helpful during a consultation with an elder care attorney:
- Financial statements, including documentation related to checking and savings accounts.
- A copy of last will and testament and a copy of the front and back of Social Security and Medicare cards.
- Any trust documents.
- Deeds and releases to all real estate property.
- Stock certificates.
- Life insurance policies.
- Divorce documents.
- Tax returns for the last three years.
- Information about closely held businesses.
- Retirement statements.
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Written by Allison Adachi. Updated by Rudri Patel on March 19, 2018.