Many moons ago, a young lawyer (let’s call him Barry) was sworn into the Washington State Bar Association by a local judge. After Barry swore to uphold the laws of the land and to be a dutiful officer of the court, the judge looked at Barry and inquired, “Young man, what sort of law do you intend on practicing? When Barry replied “Elder Law” the judge peered quizzically over his glasses and proclaimed “Elder Law…what the heck is that?”
Although we’ve come a long way since Barry was a young man, the phrase Elder Law still causes eyebrows to furrow in confusion. Although Elder Law is one of the fastest growing areas of legal practice, many people still only have a vague idea of what an Elder Law attorney does. Elder Law is really a conglomeration of many independent subject areas that are all viewed through the lens of older persons and the issues that come with aging. There are six subjects that make up the “core” of elder law.
- The legal aspects of health and long term care planning
- Public benefits (e.g. Medicare and Medicaid)
- Surrogate decision making (Acting as guardian or attorney in fact)
- Legal capacity issues
- Estate planning (powers of attorney, wills trusts)
- Disposition of estates upon death (probate and trust administration)
In addition to these core areas, Elder Law attorneys should be able to spot issues of concern that often face the elderly, such as:
Abuse neglect and exploitation
- Housing and Long Term Care Facilities
Additionally, many Elder Law attorneys also have some expertise in issues that affect people with disabilities. Although these issues are not limited to the elderly, disability issues and special needs planning have traditionally been part of an Elder Law practice.
So, what makes Elder Law special? There are lots of lawyers that specialize in some of these issues, so what makes an Elder Law attorney unique? First, an Elder Law attorney specializes in viewing these subjects through the lens of aging. A good Elder Law practitioner must understand the interrelated nature and interactions between the independent subjects. For instance, how does a person with a family history of dementia make financial and life plans to ensure they have good long term care (should they need it) and that their care needs don’t leave their family destitute.
Another unique aspect of Elder Law is that there is often an ongoing attorney/client relationship that progresses through the challenges that come with the different stages of aging. This often involves meeting with the client and other members of their family who are helping with care or other life management. An Elder Law attorney recognizes that complete solutions often require involvement from individuals outside the traditional “attorney/client” relationship.
In the end, the practice of Elder Law is about providing counsel and representation for both the known and unknown challenges that all of us will eventually face. It is about planning and problem solving, and making the golden years truly golden.
As always, we thank you for reading, and we hope that the mention of Elder Law causes no more furrows in your brow.
Barry M. Meyers
David M. Neubeck
Elder Law Offices of Barry M. Meyers
DISCLAIMER: The content of this newsletter is: for information purposes only, subject to change by government agencies, should not be relied upon as current, and, does not constitute legal advice. Reading this newsletter does not establish an attorney-client relationship.