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What Is Elder Law?

Welcome to FindLaw's Elder Law section, which covers a number of different legal and practical issues affecting the elderly, their caretakers, and their friends and family members. Some common issues involve health care, end-of-life, elder abuse, estate and financial planning, and guardianship decisions. This section also includes information about hiring an elder law attorney, and a directory of agencies for aging adults. Elder law naturally focuses on the needs of senior citizens, but it's important for family members and friends to be informed as well. The following resources cover the basics of elder law and provide information on how to get help.

Estate Planning

Most people are familiar with wills, but wills are only one aspect of estate planning. An elderly person can, and should, also plan for financial, tax, medical, and business issues. Estate planning can help an elderly person to minimize the estate tax and to decide his or her care options in case of incapacity.

Care Options

There are several ways for an elderly person to give a trusted family member or friend certain care and planning rights. One way is for the elder to give power of attorney, such as over health care or financial matters. If, for example, a relative of an elderly person is a financial professional, it might make sense to give that relative power of attorney over financial decisions, in case the elderly person becomes incapacitated. A power of attorney for health care can help to ensure that a close friend or family member makes medical and treatment decisions that are based on the elderly person's preferences.

Another option is known as a guardianship (or conservatorship, in some states). A court can appoint someone to act as a guardian for an elderly person, and close friends or family members can petition a court to appoint a guardian. Guardians are entrusted with caring for the elderly person and with making decisions in that person's best interests. Guardianship may be a last resort for many, as they often involve a court stepping in on behalf on an elderly person who is no longer able to care for himself or herself.

Elder Rights

The federal government and many states have passed laws to protect the elderly. For example, under federal law, nursing homes that receive Medicaid or Medicare payments must report cases of possible abuse within specified time frames. Under federal and state laws, the elderly have a right to dignity and privacy when residing in nursing homes, and some states give elderly residents the right to choose their own physicians and to have meals that meet religious and dietary needs. Some states have laws that provide certain rights to the elderly when they sign a contract. Caregivers for the elderly have certain duties, such as the duty to give proper care and to ensure that the elder's basic needs are met.

Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is a serious problem, one that appears to be heavily underreported. Abuse can be physical, emotional, or financial, and it includes neglect and abandonment. Sadly, family members are often the abusers, and abuse can be caused by frustration, a feeling of being overwhelmed by responsibility, and financial pressures.

Each state has protective services for the elderly, and contact information for your state or local agency can be found in this section.

How an Elder Law Attorney Can Help

An elder law specialist can help you or an elderly family member to make long-term care and estate plans. For example, an elder law attorney can help ensure that any medical treatment and end-of-life decisions are made based on the elder's preferences. Proper estate planning can help to avoid ugly disputes and lawsuits. An elder law attorney can also explain the rights and protections that the elderly have in your state, and help you to report abuse.