Just what does an elder law attorney do? What are our services? Why would you want to consult with an elder law attorney? Can younger people use our services? Are our services different from those that an estate planning lawyer provides? You may not know the answers to the above, because elder law is a relatively new field. Let me clarify how we can help you and your family.
As the term implies, elder law helps people with the legal concerns they have as they grow older. And today in America, there’s a lot of concern! According to the census bureau, 40.3 million Americans were age 65 or older in 2010. That number is expected to rise to 89 million by the year 2050.
One area of concern is making sure loved ones inherit one’s assets as efficiently, inexpensively, and stress-free as possible. This is estate planning, and it’s one of the services my law firm provides. We help clients set up wills and trusts and determine how to best structure these plans. Many clients want to keep their estates out of Florida probate. Others with taxable estates seek my help to minimize or eliminate the tax bite.
Some clients have additional planning concerns. They may have children who do not get along and cannot serve as co-trustees or co-beneficiaries. Or a child may have a disability, making a special needs trust and additional legal and financial planning advisable. A parent may be estranged from a child and wish to disinherit him/her, or include the child in an estate plan in a manner that does not jeopardize the other beneficiaries. Or a client may be so concerned about a child’s reckless spending habits that it is prudent to install certain controls in the plan.
Retirement plans like IRA’s and 401K’s often require special treatment in an estate plan. And for clients who own rental property and are concerned about potential liability, we can assist by setting up a limited liability company for the property.
Blended families, so common these days, can present particularly thorny estate planning challenges. A person in a second marriage who has children from a prior marriage often wants to ensure the spouse is taken care of, while still protecting his/her own children’s inheritance. The couple may have their own children together, too. It can get complicated!
Of course, when someone dies, my law firm helps the family with probate or trust administration.
Even younger people need our services, making the term “elder law” unrealistically restrictive. For example, my clients include many first-time parents who recognize that they need to set up a will in order to name a guardian for their children. If they have a special needs child who will likely never be self-sufficient, they need to start planning accordingly. Younger couples come to us to ensure that the spouse is protected should one of them become ill or pass away. We even prepare health care surrogates and durable powers of attorney for young adults, since once a child achieves majority, parents are no longer able to automatically make decisions for the child.
As you can see, elder law attorneys do what estate planning attorneys do. But they do more – because elder law is not just about death. It’s also about life. We help clients remain in control of their medical destiny and their financial affairs while they are alive. Today’s longer life spans mean we have a greater risk of becoming incapacitated at some point. If you are like most people, you will probably want your health care decisions and financial decisions to be made by someone you have so authorized, not a court-appointed guardian who may not know your values or priorities. To make this happen, we will help you create a durable power of attorney, and a health care surrogate. We will also help you fashion a living will to ensure that your wishes are honored at the end of life. Of course, all of these “life plans” need to be consistent with your “estate plans.”
Another area of practice unique to elder law is long-term care planning. The incidence of incapacity is growing dramatically, especially diseases like Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s and other dementias are hugely expensive diseases; if a loved one needs a nursing home on a long-term basis, the vast majority of families will go broke in short order. A significant part of our practice is devoted to helping families get access to government benefits like VA benefits or Medicaid, allowing the family to preserve some portion of its assets. This is a particularly urgent issue when the patient has a well spouse whose nest egg is threatened by nursing home costs.
As you can see, we elder law attorneys have a lot on our plate. If any of these issues I’ve mentioned concern you, we look forward to assisting you!