Basic facts you should know about elder law

By Kathy Jordan

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With the large wave of Baby Boomers hitting retirement and old age, the specialized field of elder law is seeing increased interest and demand as the population ages and encounters legal matters related to long-term care and estates.

Elder law, a subcategory of family law, specializes in the administration of end-of-life legal issues, such as estate planning, long-term health care issues, and guardianship.

Estate planning

Older citizens should consult with an attorney regarding establishing wills and trusts. A lawyer with elder care specialization can walk a client through the process of naming beneficiaries, establishing power of attorney, assign estate trustees.

An attorney will help a client with estate planning decisions like how to mitigate tax penalties as well as drafting the will itself. After death, the attorney will execute the will along with the trustees to ensure the appropriate distribution of assets.

Additionally as part of estate planning, clients may wish to establish a living will. A living will establishes protocol for doctors and family members to follow should the client become unable to make legal and medical decisions for himself.

Estate plans also often include provisions for after-death arrangements. A client may determine the future of her remains, whether that be burial in a family plot or donation to a medical lab.

Medicaid and health care

Those practicing elder law might also deal with issues related to Medicaid, Medicare, disability payments, Social Security benefits, and a host of other legalities associated with long-term care.

The health-care costs associated with aging -- whether simple medical bills or expensive nursing home care -- pose many financial challenges for the elderly, especially those from lower incomes. An attorney specializing in elder law may help those facing health-care costs navigate the paperwork and red tape of receiving benefits and entitlements.


Elder law attorneys also help draft documents assigning guardianship in the case that in older age a client can no longer make legal decisions for himself. Guardians take over the management and oversight of their ward's interests, both fiduciary and in matters of the ward's well-being.

A guardian acts as the surrogate for the incapacitated ward in cases of litigation.

Elder law attorneys might also deal with more typical family law issues such as marriage, divorce, and even custody proceedings. Those operating an elder law practice might also encounter cases in bankruptcy, as well as civil property suits and nursing home abuse. Elder law attorneys litigate on behalf of their clients in cases related to abuse, financial disputes, and consumer protection.

In cases that contain these special circumstances, your attorney may delegate litigation to be handled by a niche legal representative such as a nursing home abuse lawyer.

The practice of elder law offers lawyers the opportunity to establish a specialized practice with a growing client base. In coming years, as the U.S. population ages, there will be many older Americans with age-driven legal needs, thus increasing demand for attorneys with this specialization.

Got a specific question about elder law? You can always speak with a lawyer on JustAnswer at any time.