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Elder Law 101

Taking care of an aging parent or loved one is challenging. Care becomes even more complicated when legal issues arise, especially if your loved one is disabled or has memory problems. That’s where Elder Law comes into the picture.

Elder Law can remove the legal obstacles that can get in the way of caring for your aging loved one. In this article you’ll learn:

  • What Elder Law is
  • Why it’s important to find the right Elder Law attorney
  • How to find an Elder Law attorney
  • Why it’s important to have a power of attorney done

What is Elder Law?

Elder Law is the area of the law that deals with aging. It helps seniors and their caretakers ensure that they are taken care of financially and medically while maintaining autonomy as they grow older.

Elder Law attorneys deal with matters of estate planning, guardianship, healthcare, assisted living, finances, and more.

Why it’s important to find the right Elder Law attorney

It’s important to be proactive about finding an Elder Law attorney so that your aging loved one can make important decisions while they are capable of doing so.

As with choosing any professional, finding the right Elder Law attorney will depend on your family’s needs and preferences. You should choose someone you trust and feel comfortable working with.

Just like you may want a doctor with impeccable bedside manner, you may want to look for an Elder Law attorney who is compassionate about the difficult subjects broached in the practice.

How to find an Elder Law attorney

So how do you find an Elder Law attorney? Here are three easy steps for finding a lawyer, followed by tips for vetting Elder Law attorneys to make sure that you find the best fit.

1. Do your research. What are your legal needs? What can you afford? Don’t start looking for an Elder Law attorney without a “shopping list” of needs and a budget.

2. If you have friends who have used Elder Law attorneys, ask them if they’d recommend their lawyers. Also ask experienced friends what they wish they had known while looking for an attorney.

3. Use online tools. The National Elder Law Foundation has a directory of attorneys who specialize in Elder Law. When it comes to sorting out your aging loved one’s legal issues, it’s best to look for an experienced Elder Law specialist, rather than a jack of all trades lawyer who has a shallow depth of knowledge in many fields of law.

When you’ve found several Elder Law attorneys and want to narrow down your pool, inquire about:

  • Pricing -  How does the attorney charge for their services? When will you get billed? Can you get financial assistance?
  • Process - How does the attorney work? Ask your attorney to explain the different steps in each subject matter you’re getting help with. Is the attorney speaking legalese, or are they explaining everything in layman terms?
  • Communication - What’s the best way to get in touch with the attorney? When are they available? Are they available after hours in case of emergency? Will you get charged more for emergency or after-hours calls?
  • References - Ask the attorney for the contact information of previous clients. Give them a call and ask questions about working with the attorney.

Take your time while selecting an Elder Law attorney to ensure that you find the best fit for your family.

What is power of attorney and why is it important to have one done?

At some point, it will be important for your aging loved one to give you, their caretaker, power of attorney. When your aging loved one completes a power of attorney form, they (the “principal”) are giving you (the “agent”) the legal right to act on their behalf.

Power of attorney is especially useful when the principal has, or is at risk of developing, an illness or disability that would make them incapable of decision making. Discuss power of attorney with your aging loved one sooner rather than later to ensure that you can look out for their best interests when they can no longer care for themselves.

Looking after an aging loved one can be emotionally and physically challenging. Don’t let it be a legal challenge as well. Find an Elder Law attorney who can help you proactively create systems and processes for your loved to age with dignity.