May is National Elder Law Month, which makes it a good time to answer a question I often hear from people who’ve not yet had to deal with the declining health of an elderly relative.
The question is this: What is elder law?
Elder law is a specialty of law that caters to the needs of older clients and those with disabilities. Elder law services help individuals and families respond to a variety of issues, including long-term care and nursing home care, Medicaid and asset protection planning, health insurance, Social Security and retirement income planning, disability planning, housing options, financial and health care decision-making through the use of durable powers of attorney, and end-of-life decision-making through the use of living wills, advance directives, living trusts, and wills.
Elder law is one of the fastest growing areas of law, which should come as no surprise. With 80 million baby boomers moving into their “golden years,” and one person turning 50 every seven seconds, there is a great demand for information. In addition, many of the entitlements, such as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and “healthcare reform,” are being driven at the federal level. It takes an attorney committed to practice primarily in this area of law to stay on top of the most current changes in legislation.
Elder law has evolved since it was first recognized as a practice area in the late 1980s. In the early years, elder law attorneys focused primarily on helping families deal with the legal and financial problems created by the high cost of nursing home care. The goal was to pay for care without bankrupting the elder and his or her family, often with the help of public benefits like Medicaid.
A new type of elder law emerged in the 1990s when an attorney in Tennessee realized that for some families, paying for care was just one item on a long list of worries. Assessing care needs, providing care, researching options, hiring service providers, and coordinating everything–often while juggling homes, careers and families of their own—was creating difficulties long before the nursing home crisis.
This attorney’s innovation, now known as Life Care Planning, revolutionized the practice of elder law in the United States. In addition to attorneys, the staff in a Life Care Planning Law Firm includes non-attorney professionals like Elder Care Coordinators who address personal care issues and walk alongside families during the long-term care journey. Life Care Planning is one of the services we offer here at the Flammia Elder Law Firm.
As an elder law attorney, if I can help a family afford the care an elderly loved one needs, it can be life-changing. It’s especially rewarding for me to watch the elder care coordinator on our staff guide family caregivers through the many twists and turns in the long-term care maze. People who haven’t slept for months can suddenly relax because they know their elderly loved one is well cared for.
That’s what elder law is all about.