Too often, family members feel alone and overwhelmed when making financial, legal, and health care decisions on behalf of an aging loved one. But this needn't be the case. While planning for the well-being of an elder may be difficult and uncomfortable, there's help available for people who need guidance and peace of mind. A qualified elder law attorney can help with a wide range of legal matters affecting you and your loved one, such as helping you create a durable power of attorney, discussing the importance of wills and estate planning, and providing help with health care and long-term care planning. This section includes information and resources for finding an experienced elder law attorney as well as a list of both national and local agencies for the elderly.
The Need for Planning
Perhaps the two most common concerns for the elderly and those caring for them are estate planning and what to do if the elderly person is unable to take care of himself or herself. These issues can be uncomfortable to deal with, but lack of proper planning can lead to confusion and conflict. It's best to plan for these concerns while the elderly person is still able.
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 related to his or her estate. Estate planning can help an elderly person to minimize the estate tax and to decide his or her care options in case of incapacity.
There are options available for creating a legal relationship so that a caregiver can manage the finances, health care, and/or property of an elderly person. These options range from being limited in scope to broad. For example, an elderly person can assign the rights to manage his or her finances, only, to a family member or friend in case of incapacity. This is known as durable power of attorney for financial matters. On the other side of the spectrum, an elderly person could designate someone to be his or her guardian, to manage all of his or her affairs.
Deciding which care option is best for an aging loved one is important, and doing so can prevent conflicts such as disagreements about placing the loved one in an assisted living facility.
The elderly have certain rights under federal and state law. The federal Elder Justice Act protects elderly residents of long-term care facilities such as skilled nursing homes by requiring facility employees to report abuse within a short time frame. States have passed laws that protect the elderly from abuse, neglect, abandonment, and exploitation, and some have passed laws such as requiring living facilities to provide meals that meet an elderly resident's religious and dietary needs.
How an Elder Law Attorney Can Help
An elder law attorney can draft a will or other estate plan, including durable power of attorney and guardianship documents. Having a plan in place can help prevent an elderly person from being cared for in a manner that is against his or her wishes. Even if an elderly person's estate is small, an attorney can help to reduce the risk of future disagreement and conflict. A qualified attorney can also inform an elderly person and his or her caretaker about their rights and responsibilities under federal and their state's laws.