“IF YOU WANT TO BE GENUINELY KIND, YOU HAVE TO BE OF ACTUAL BENEFIT – NOBODY WANTS TO BE THE RECIPIENT OF “HELP” THAT ISN’T REALLY HELPFUL – AND YOU HAVE TO PROVIDE THAT BENEFIT IN A WAY THAT SHOWS RESPECT AND EMPATHY FOR THE OTHER PERSON’S NEEDS.”
Elder law is a special and separate legal practice area whose scope is defined by the clients served. The special and especially complicated issue in elder law is that as a matter of professional ethics, attorneys have to make sure that everyone knows who the client is and, except in guardianship cases, the client is the elderly or disabled person him or herself even if or when that person appears to have diminished capacity to some degree. (More traditional areas, like estate planning or contract law are defined by the tools used and the particular laws connected to it, not the clients served.)
Estate Planning for older people requires the same kinds of tools anyone employs to address incapacity and asset distribution issues. But the difference is that elder law attorneys know what to look for in determining whether or not someone can give them direction and execute documents. We also take the extra time to listen and explain.
We also address head-on the issue most older clients really want to avoid: taking steps to avoid being a burden to their loved ones while also not being warehoused in a frightening old folks’ home. We address the full range of possible government benefits that may be available to help pay long-term care costs such as Medicaid, Social Security Disability benefits, Veterans’ Pension and Supplemental Security Income. Most of these programs are needs-based with strict limits on what assets a person can retain. Gifting strategies are complex and require careful consideration and advice. Substantial gifts to children or other loved ones can result in long periods of ineligibility for benefits, negative tax consequences, investment withdrawal penalties and loss of control of finances, as well as the loss of the gifted assets should the recipient divorce, have creditor problems or become estranged.
Finally, there are also protection issues—looking at whether guardianship is necessary, whether there has been negligence or exploitation, how to avoid legal emergencies at times when information and grieving are what is really important.