Elder law attorneys specialize in legal issues affecting seniors and their families. These professionals handle complex estate planning and insurance-related difficulties, as well as issues affecting the everyday life of seniors, such as job discrimination and Social Security claims.
Whether you're establishing a will or making a claim with your long-term insurance provider, you should consult an elder law attorney. By working together, you’re more likely to avoid common challenges and secure restitution for any wrongdoing you experience.
While most areas of the law focus on specific disciplines (i.e., labor and employment, environment, immigration), attorneys specializing in elder law usually offer aid in a wide range of disciplines for individuals who are 60 or older.
Some common tasks that elder law attorneys handle include the following:
In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Older Americans Act (OAA) into law, establishing the Administration on Aging and launching the first national government push for senior care in the United States. According to the OAA, U.S. citizens should have an adequate retirement income, physical and mental healthcare, affordable housing, career opportunities, institutional and long-term care, and initiatives to help seniors stay independent as long as possible.
About a decade later, the legal community recognized the need to provide services related to the rights granted by the OAA, so the American Bar Association established the Commission on Law and Aging to offer older Americans assistance with legal matters.
Elder law encompasses a wealth of legal specialties, pertaining to both finances and the general rights of older adults.
Lawyers specializing in elder law may assist you in determining your optimal retirement age based on your needs and preferences, and can ensure you obtain the maximum Social Security benefit you are owed. They can also help ensure you get all the disability payments to which you are entitled.
An elder law attorney with expertise in estate planning can assist you with legal documents (wills, trusts, power of attorney, etc.) to ensure your wishes are honored. Having an elder law attorney assist you with your estate planning will likely save your estate money on probate and other taxes.
While Medicare and other government-run programs provide seniors with significantly discounted healthcare plans, selecting a plan and completing an application can be a difficult and confusing procedure, especially if you are doing it for the first time. However, with the guidance of an elder law attorney who has a lot of expertise with Medicare, you can design a healthcare plan that keeps you both financially and physically secure.
Elder law attorneys can tell you whether you are eligible for Medicaid and what the program covers. If you do not meet the criteria for Medicaid, an elder law attorney can explain what you can do to qualify. They’re also a great resource when Medicaid refuses to cover your claim.
To learn more about Medicaid, read our guide to Medicare vs. Medicaid.
A qualified elder care attorney can help alleviate some stress related to making a claim or dealing with a claim denial from your long-term care insurance coverage. Additionally, they can help you understand your long-term care insurance policy, identify the most appropriate level of long-term care for your needs, increase your chances of having a claim approved, and provide you with information about legal alternatives for long-term care accessible to you.
If you or a loved one has experienced elder abuse, you’re not alone. While approximately 500,000 cases of elder abuse are reported each year, it’s estimated that only 1 in 24 instances of abuse are actually reported. That means elder law attorneys can assist victims in a variety of ways. For example, they can aid you in contacting authorities, retrieving lost funds, and getting you to safety. In addition, it may be smart to bring in an elder law attorney when there are severe cases of abuse, as they can represent you in court and help you sue for correct compensation or pursue criminal charges against the offender.
Scams targeting the elderly are frequent, and financial fraud is the fastest-growing type of elder abuse. The best way to avoid scams is to educate yourself and then be on the lookout for common signs of scams. Another way to keep yourself from becoming a victim of financial fraud is to have a strong estate plan in place. An elder law attorney can help you create this. If you’ve already been a victim of fraud, an elder law attorney may help you attain justice and recover lost funds.
It can be heartbreaking when your grandchildren’s guardians are unwilling to let them see you due to tensions from a divorce, other legal issues, or unexpected death. However, even when relationships between adults break down, you may have visitation rights as a grandparent that the child’s guardian must honor. While these rules vary by state, all 50 states and Washington, D.C., have some type of grandparent rights. When you hire an elder law attorney, they can explain the rules in your state, determine your rights, and guide you through the process of requesting visitation.
If you lose your job or believe you have been passed over for one because of your age, you may be able to pursue an age discrimination claim in line with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against anyone over 40 because of their age. To do this, you’ll want to seek out an elder law attorney, as they can professionally evaluate your claim and advise you on next steps.
An elder law attorney can prepare a durable power of attorney authorizing another person to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf should you become incapable of making decisions on your own. If you do not establish a power of attorney prior to a circumstance when your competency is questioned, you and your family will be forced to go to court to appoint a guardian, which might take some time. Finally, if a family member attempts to assert power of attorney over you, an elder law attorney can help you retain your rights and prove your competency.
An attorney specializing in elder law can help you select a legal guardian should one ever become necessary. While many lawyers can help you through the process, those who are experts in elder law are the best choice for helping you through the complicated guardianship process. You can also count on them to know and address all of the limitations guardianship places on a senior and all the responsibilities you’re required to fulfill if you’re taking on guardianship over someone else. An elder law attorney can also provide advice on alternatives to guardianship and which ones might work best for you or your loved one.
One of the best places to start any search for an elder law attorney is the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF), the only national certifying organization for elder law and special needs attorneys. To find a certified attorney in your area, visit the NELF’s interactive map.
Another great place to begin your search is the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, a professional association for lawyers specializing in elder and special needs law.
Because an elder law attorney represents you and advocates on your behalf, it's important that you see eye-to-eye on important issues and feel safe about working with the attorney you choose. As you narrow down your choices, schedule a face-to-face meeting with each potential attorney and ask them the following questions:
Working with an elder law attorney can help you avoid being a victim of fraud and eliminate family feuds after you pass away. Receiving their counsel and assistance on Medicare, Medicaid, and long-term care insurance claims can lead to faster approvals and save you a lot of money. If you have experienced elder abuse or job discrimination, an elder law attorney can help you achieve justice and begin to heal.
Fees for elder law attorneys vary widely based on the specific service performed, the experience of the attorney or firm, and your geographic location. However, you can expect to pay anywhere from $250 per hour to $1,000 per hour.
You might consult with an elder attorney if you need help with estate planning, drafting a will, or filing insurance claims, or if you’ve been the victim of elder abuse or fraud.
Elder law is an area of specialization within U.S. law meant to ensure seniors’ rights and well-being. Most lawyers who do a significant amount of work in elder law belong to the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.