The population of older Americans has increased dramatically over the last several decades, causing people to realize that the unique legal issues they faced were not being addressed. To remedy that problem, a new area of the law known as “elder law” began to evolve. One thing that makes elder law different than other specialized areas of the law is that unlike those areas, and elder law attorney does not focus on a single type of law as does a criminal or personal injury attorney. Instead, and elder law attorney focuses on how the various legal issues impact a specific population – the elderly and those who are for them.
The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, or NAELA, was formed in the late 1980s as a way to better serve this growing segment of the population. Five years after the creation of NAELA, the National Elder Law Foundation was formed. The purpose of the non-profit NELF was to help improve the professional skills of attorneys who choose to focus on elder law. Toward that end, NELF then developed a national certification program for attorneys known as the Certified Elder Law Attorney, or CELA, certification program. Attorneys who wish to gain certification in the area of elder law may do so through a rigorous and selective certification program recognized by the American Bar Association and administered by NELF.
Anytime a legal issue involves a senior, or caregivers of the elderly, an elder law attorney may be able to help. By way of illustration, however, the following are examples of scenarios in which you might seek the assistance of an elder law attorney:
- You received a denial for SSI, SSDI, or other benefits
- You need to petition for, or object to, a guardianship
- You have faced housing discrimination
- You are concerned about long-term care planning
- You need to create or update an estate plan
- You (or a loved one) are the victim of elder abuse
- You wish to prepare an advance directive
- You are concerned about retirement planning
- You have a loved one who you believe is the victim of nursing home abuse
- You need information about veteran’s benefits
For an adult child, few things are more painful than watching a parent deteriorate physically and/or mentally. Making the decision to seek guardianship over a parent is a heart-wrenching decision; failing to do so could lead to serious injury and/or victimization by those who prey on the elderly. An elder law attorney can help you petition for guardianship to ensure that you have the legal authority required by law to properly care for and protect your parent.
The caregiver statistics are truly eye-opening. A 2015 survey conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP indicates that approximately 43.5 million caregivers provided unpaid care to an adult or child that year. The average dollar amount in lost income and benefits over a caregiver's lifetime is estimated to exceed $300,000. Moreover, if you are a caregiver you likely deal with emotional stress, financial hardship, and legal struggles that are directly related to the care you provide. You need, and deserve, help. Fortunately, help may be available but you must know where to look and how to obtain that assistance. That’s where an experienced elder law attorney can help with things such as getting your loved one approved for Medicaid benefits that may even pay you to care for your loved one or helping you to obtain guardianship which gives you much needed legal authority.
Neither Medicare nor most basic health insurance plans will cover the costs associated with long-term care. Unless you have the resources to cover the high cost of nursing home care out of pocket and indefinitely, you will likely find yourself turning to Medicaid for help. To be eligible, however, you must contend with very low “countable resources” limits that can put your retirement nest egg at risk. An elder law attorney can help you incorporate Medicaid planning into your overall estate plan to make sure you are eligible for benefits if you need them while still protecting your retirement nest egg.
The harsh reality is that abuse of the elderly is a very real problem in the United States. Although accurate figures are hard to come by, experts believe that at least one in ten seniors will be the victim of elder abuse. Sadly, they also tell us that about 75 percent of the time it is a family member who is the perpetrator that abuse. Moreover, 40 percent of nursing home residents have reported abuse, and more than 90 percent report that they or another resident of the facility have been neglected. While elder abuse can be a criminal offense in most states, it can also form the basis of a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator and/or the facility that allowed the abuse to occur. If you suspect that an elderly loved one is the victim of abuse, an elder law attorney can discuss your legal options and help you remove your loved one from the abusive environment.