Elder Law, Estate Planning, and Probate Attorney
An elder law attorney helps families navigate the legal complexities of aging. The way we can help is by taking a holistic approach to aging. The priority is always to determine how each senior desires to age. We engage in difficult conversations with seniors and their families to paint an accurate picture of the aging process. We discuss a senior’s future and what their plan is for when they need additional help at home. We give comprehensive advice based on the senior’s desires, finances, and availability of support. Then we assist in developing a plan that allows the senior to reach their goals. We calculate the potential costs of long-term care and advise on the best ways to prepare for future healthcare.
We also help by ensuring all documentation is in place to allow a trusted person to help a senior make decisions and take action regarding their healthcare decisions and finances. The most important documents a person can have while they are living are their Durable Power of Attorney and Medical Power of Attorney. The Durable Power of Attorney allows a person to name an agent to act on their behalf if they are unable or unwilling to act. It gives the agent authority to access accounts, pay bills, and enter into contracts on behalf of the senior. The Medical Power of Attorney allows a senior to name an agent to make medical decisions on their behalf if they are unable to let their wishes be known.
Without these documents, it may be necessary to seek a guardianship for a senior who is not able to manage their affairs. If a senior is making decisions that are detrimental to their financial welfare or dangerous to their health, a family member may seek a guardianship. A guardianship is only applicable if there are no other options to assist the senior.
Elder law attorneys are also integral when there is no time to plan. For example, a senior who has been managing well on their own suddenly is no longer able to do so. It could be a physical issue like a stroke or broken bone or a mental issue like diminishing capacity. When a family is in crisis because of catastrophic change in circumstances, an elder law attorney assists in qualification and applying for government benefits to pay for long-term care. The average yearly cost of skilled nursing is about $85,000. There are a limited number of ways to pay for this care: private pay using income and assets, long-term care insurance, and Medicaid benefits. Medicaid is the single largest payor of skilled nursing care in the county. Even with long-term care insurance, some people find that there is a gap between their coverage, income, and the cost of care. An elder law attorney can help apply for benefits to close that gap.
An elder law attorney may be able to help protect assets for a spouse who is in good health. When one spouse needs long-term care, but the other spouse does not, it may be necessary to apply for benefits for the ill spouse. The application process for spouses is particularly complicated, and the internet is full of bad advice. Seeking the guidance of an elder law attorney can prevent a healthy spouse from impoverishing themselves to care for their loved one. In situations where a single senior needs help, an elder law attorney can advise the family in qualification and application for Medicaid benefits.
In the estate planning aspect of our practice, elder law attorneys can review, update, and draft full estate plans for a senior. In many cases, a senior has never had a will, and there is no plan in place to pass their assets to their loved ones. There are many avenues to give assets to loved ones. An elder law attorney can advise seniors on the best way to meet their goals for their assets.
Finally, in our probate practice, we can assist the family in wrapping up a senior’s estate. Depending on what assets are remaining, it may be necessary to open a probate administration to manage those assets, pay final debts, and distribute the assets to the beneficiaries. One of the areas of focus is the Medicaid Estate Recovery Program. When a person receives Medicaid benefits, the state attempts to recover those funds from the estate of the recipient. There are estate planning techniques that can be put in place to avoid Medicaid Estate Recovery. However, if those measures were not taken, Medicaid Estate Recovery will need to handled in probate. An elder law attorney who also practices probate can help manage these and other debts of the estate.
Many legal issues arise as someone ages. There is the danger of financial exploitation, incapacity issues, ensuring that someone is available and able to make appropriate financial and healthcare decisions. Families are often left on their own when navigating the Medicaid system and making the right decisions for Medicaid qualification. We spend very little time thinking about how we want to age and what steps we need to take to age with dignity. Seniors and their families often do not know what resources or professional services are available to them to help them meet their aging goals. Consulting with an elder law attorney early in the process can open up options that many families may not have known existed.