What is Elder Law

Elder law is a very complex and diverse practice and encompasses a broad understanding of aging and the law, and the legal interaction between all the varied issues which may affect the elderly. An elder law attorney is familiar with federal and state laws which affect an individual’s well-being and personal wishes. Most elder law attorneys do not specialize in every area of law that elder law encompasses. When looking for an elder law attorney, make sure you choose one that handles matters regarding your specific needs and understands how actions taken might affect other areas of the law. 

Elder Law Encompasses Three Broad Practice Areas Including:

Elder law involves general estate planning matters including wills, trusts, estate and trust administration and helping clients plan for incapacity and disability using powers of attorney, guardianships and health care advance directives including living wills and health care surrogate designation.

Also known as Long Term Care Planning, Elder Law attorneys assist clients in finding and financing access to long term care health and personal care services including home and respite care, assisted living residential care and nursing home care This requires coordinating private funds and being familiar with public benefit programs to seniors such as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and VA benefits as well as long-term care insurance and reverse mortgages in order to finance such care.

Elder law even covers some aspects of criminal law, including elder abuse, financial abuse of elders, fraud and other consumer protection issues, nursing home abuse, neglect and impoverishment.

Elder Law Practice Areas Include:

  • Preservation/transfer of assets seeking to avoid spousal impoverishment when a spouse enters a nursing home
  • Medicaid
  • Medicare claims and appeals
  • Social security and disability claims and appeals
  • Supplemental and long-term health insurance issues
  • Disability planning, including use of durable powers of attorney, living trusts, “living wills,” for financial management and health care decisions, and other means of delegating management and decision-making to another in case of incompetency or incapacity
  • Conservatorships and guardianships
  • Estate planning, including planning for the management of one’s estate during life and its disposition on death using trusts, wills and other planning documents
  • Probate
  • Administration and management of trusts and estates
  • Long-term care placements in nursing home and life care communities
  • Nursing home issues including questions of patients’ rights and nursing home quality
  • Elder abuse and fraud recovery cases
  • Housing issues, including discrimination and home equity conversions
  • Age discrimination in employment
  • Retirement, including public and private retirement benefits, survivor benefits and pension benefits
  • Health law
  • Mental health law

If you are not sure you need to hire an Elder Law Attorney, you need to ask yourself: “Do I have the legal knowledge and resources to resolve my legal issue by myself?”

If the answer is NO, then the following questions will help you in your search. You should first get a list of Elder Law Attorneys. If you have family or friends that can give you a list of references of attorney(s) they have had good experiences with then start there. Otherwise, check our Resource Directory for elder law attorneys in Polk County.

Once you have chosen a few attorneys to investigate further, call their offices and briefly explain your situation. You may not get to speak with the attorney in the initial call, but you should still ask the following questions to decide if you’d like to set up an appointment.

  • Does the attorney have experience with your kind of problem and how long have they been practicing Elder Law? Is the attorney certified in Elder Law? (certification is not required to practice in the area of Elder Law, but shows a specialization in the area of practice).
  • Does the attorney charges for an initial interview and, if so, how much?
  • If your problem is routine, does the attorney have a standard fee? What does it cover?
  • If your problem appears more complicated, ask about how fees work.
  • Does the attorney charge by the hour or for what you need is there a standard flat fee?
  • Does the attorney have a written document describing fees and services provided?

Write down the information and compare the answers you receive to other Elder Law Attorneys. After you have reviewed your list, call back for an appointment to interview the attorney or attorneys whose answers satisfied you the most. Most of these “initial consultations” are free or provided at a nominal cost. Go to the first interview with an open mind. You don’t have to decide to employ the lawyer you are interviewing until you have had time to think about it.

Be organized when you first meet with the lawyer. It is important to have with you a written summary and/or detailed notes outlining your problem. Have the names, addresses, phone numbers, documents, paperwork and all other pertinent information that you need so the lawyer can review them if needed at the time of your appointment.

Ask questions: Be prepared with written questions before your consultation.

  • Have you had experience with this type of problem before? How recently? How often? What was involved?
  • What percentage of your practice is devoted to this kind of problem?
  • Do you have an estimate of the cost to resolve my situation?
  • Will you personally be working on my case?
  • How do you handle payment for services? And for expenses?

When you hire an attorney, they will be working for you. He or she should be genuinely interested in your problem and in giving you the best possible advice. Be aware that the attorney may not be able to accomplish everything you wish because of the facts or the laws that apply in your case. A good attorney should be able to explain, in terms you can understand, what he or she hopes to accomplish for you and how he or she plans to do it. Think about how the attorney responded to your questions, his or her experience and whether you will be comfortable with and confident in them.