May is Elder Law Month!

There are plenty of things to celebrate in May, but one that you've probably never considered is "National Elder Law Month." While celebrating elder law may not be as immediately satisfying as celebrating, say, "National Hamburger Month" or "National Strawberry Month" (both also in May), taking a few minutes to think about elder law and what it could mean to you or your loved ones could have great benefits.

What is Elder Law?

Elder law is that cluster of legal practice areas that have to do with meeting the needs of the aging population. That may not seem relevant to you now if you're in your thirties or forties, but it should, for two reasons: first, you may have parents who are. or are close to becoming, senior citizens; and second, you will (with luck) be a senior citizen yourself someday. Thinking about elder law now will make your life in the future a lot less stressful, whether you're caring for an elderly parent or navigating your own golden years.

Some of the topics encompassed by elder law include:

  • Retirement planning
  • Estate planning
  • Insurance
  • Financial planning
  • Long-term care and Medicaid planning
  • Nursing home crisis planning
  • Government benefit programs including Medicare, Social Security, and veterans' benefits
  • Incapacity planning, including powers of attorney
  • Guardianship
  • Health care needs planning, including medical advance directives and end-of-life planning
  • Elder abuse recognition and prevention

None of these topics exist in a vacuum, and most have some impact on the others, which is why it's so important to have an elder law attorney who is conversant in all of them. An elder law attorney advises you regarding both big picture and details, helping you see, for example, how a change in your estate plan could have a positive (or negative) effect on your long-term care planning.

Because coordinating services to meet the needs of seniors often involves dealing with agencies and organizations, it can also be very helpful to have an advocate who understands how to navigate the bureaucracy and get things done.

Picture a scenario in which an elderly person lives alone and whose adult children suspect their parent is declining into dementia. They may simultaneously need to secure care for their parent, preserve his assets, gain guardianship, and tap into government benefits. An elder law attorney can help with all of these efforts, especially when the family doesn't know where to start.

How Do I Find an Elder Law Attorney?

Not every attorney who practices some aspects of law relevant to seniors is an elder law attorney. Look for an attorney who specifically holds himself out as practicing elder law. Membership in the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) is a favorable sign, as well. While newer attorneys may be perfectly competent, there is no substitute for years of experience, so look for an attorney who has been devoted a significant part of their practice to elder law for some time.

Schedule a consultation with the attorney to address your specific concerns, both current and anticipated. You want an attorney who is knowledgeable about the relevant legal issues, but who is also sensitive to your personal concerns or those of your loved one. Most elder law attorneys go into the field because they genuinely care about the well-being of older people and their families.

Battening down the legal hatches for your future or a loved one's may not seem like fun, but sooner or later you'll be very glad you did it. Reward yourself by celebrating the month of May with a hamburger and a strawberry shake, and sit up straight—May is also National Correct Posture Month!