In our practice we handle estate planning and probate for clients of all ages. But, we also practice Elder Law. We are often asked “what exactly is Elder Law?” For us, it means that a part of our practice is focused on helping clients with legal issues that our aging population faces such as cost of care or capacity issues for a loved one. Wikipedia defines Elder Law and its purpose as follows: “Elder law is an area of legal practice that specializes on issues that affect the aging population. The purpose of elder law planning is to prepare the elderly person for financial freedom and autonomy through proper financial planning and long-term care options.” I think that’s a pretty good description of it.
Cost of Care
Many of our Elder Law clients have recently faced a health-related crisis for a loved one which requires additional care for that person. That additional care can be a private caregiver at home, a move to an assisted-living community, skilled-rehabilitation in a health-care facility, or even long-term care in a nursing home. All of these types of care have one thing in common – they are expensive. While some of our clients have long-term care insurance and Medicare covers a limited period of skilled rehabilitation, most people in this situation find themselves in need of assistance to meet this financial burden. For some Veterans or widows of Veterans, the VA offers a pension benefit called Aid & Attendance which provides monthly assistance to help pay for home care or an assisted-living community. Medicaid is available to others to help pay for the cost of long-term care in a nursing home. Both of these benefits require the applicant have limited income and limited assets and have very specific eligibility rules regarding how different assets are treated and valued. We help our clients determine whether they are eligible for these benefits. We also help them plan for and apply for these benefits. Taking a longer view, for some clients we can help them structure their estate to protect their assets against this cost of care in the future. A traditional estate planning practice may not be as familiar with these benefits or proper strategies for eligibility or asset protection.
A common and unfortunate aspect of aging is a decline in cognitive capacity. This can be mild and gradual or severe and sudden. Many of our Elder Law clients are grappling with this personally or struggling with caring for a loved one experiencing cognitive decline. While traditional “estate planning” is often more focused on what happens to your estate after your death, this aspect of Elder Law also incorporates more detailed conversations and planning about what happens while you are still living. We call this incapacity planning. We help our clients carefully consider and choose and who they want making certain types of decisions for them and how they want those decisions to be made. Incapacity planning can be just as important, if not, more important for certain clients than their estate planning. When a person’s cognitive abilities have declined to the point they can no longer participate in this type of conversation, we help family members pursue guardianship through the probate court.
What is Different About Our Practice?
What sets our elder law practice apart is our intentional focus on client-led planning and on taking great care of our clients. In our practice, we strive to give our clients a personalized experience with their planning attorney. We will listen to you first. We will help you understand your planning options. We will empower you to choose the planning solution that best fits your personal needs and goals. We will help you implement your plan as efficiently and effectively as possible. Our goal is to create a positive and supportive experience for you during the planning process that will lead to a life-long relationship with us.