Elder law is a field of legal practice that we’re hearing more and more about as baby boomers age. As the population ages the field is only expected to grow. You may be wondering what it is, how these attorneys differ from family lawyers and what services they provide.Defining Elder LawIt’s not a simple task to spell out the exact legal areas that elder law encompasses because the field covers so many topics. Nearly any legal situation that affects the aged falls under its jurisdiction. This includes: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, healthcare planning, estate planning, wills, trusts and probate, retirement planning, Alzheimer’s, dementia, disability, etc.The best way to describe the field may be to explain that it is a practice area that addresses the specific legal needs of seniors — be they financial, healthcare or relationship needs. It’s also important to note that these lawyers take a big picture view of their clients’ lives. They work closely with the seniors, themselves, along with family and loved ones to develop legal recommendations and solutions that provide for a high quality of life for the rest of their clients’ lives.Areas Of ExpertiseThese attorneys help their clients plan for retirement and long-term care, protect their business and personal assets and the distribution of such to heirs or charities upon their death, and create guardianships for both the clients’ children and/or the clients themselves. They can also help seniors navigate Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid requirements, assist with tax planning, advocate for seniors in tenant/landlord relations or nursing home disputes, and represent them in all legal matters, including litigation. These lawyers are instrumental in protecting seniors’ rights if they’ve been the victim of abuse, fraud or misrepresentation. They often assist their clients in finding resources such as private and public programs for seniors, and help identify suitable home care providers or nursing homes.Specific areas of expertise include:• Estate Planning. Includes probate, gifting, tax planning, and asset protection.• Guardianships and Conservatorships.• Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and other entitlement programs.• Retirement planning and benefits.• Elder Abuse and Age Discrimination.• Long-Term Care planning and financing, including disability planning and medical decision-making.• Housing issues including real estate mortgages, taxes, sales and purchases, rental agreements, assisted living and nursing homes and in-home care.• Tax and Insurance issues.The Difference Between Elder And Family LawAlthough it sounds like the elder law attorney does everything a family law attorney can do, there is one main difference. The elder law attorney has dedicated his or her practice specifically to seniors and the issues that affect them. Attorneys who specialize in family law, on the other hand, have much broader and more general experience and will not be as knowledgeable about issues specific to seniors.Two of the greatest benefits these attorneys provide are insider knowledge and the ability to listen to and understand seniors’ needs. These attorneys are highly skilled in dealing with very personal matters and equally as skilled at knowing how to care for seniors. They often have an extensive network of resources and professionals who cater to older adults and can refer their clients to these services as needed.These lawyers understand the abilities and limitations of older adults as well as their unique needs. It is this combination of legal knowledge and an understanding of their client base that makes them so much more effective at providing solutions to client needs than any other type of lawyer.Of course, not every elder law attorney will be an expert in every area. Just as you would with any other service provider, make sure the attorney you choose has the experience and expertise needed for your specific situation. Chances are, even if the lawyer you first meet with cannot help you, he or she can refer you to a colleague who has the expertise you need.
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