Elder law attorneys were not readily available in the 1980's. I didn't hear about elder law attorneys until the early 1990's. While working as a nursing home administrator in the 1980’s, I had the opportunity to speak with many family members regarding their concerns in the caring of their loves one. Many times, their questions centered around legal matters of which, not being an attorney, I was not prepared to answer. I would direct them to speak to their attorney for the correct answers, but I quickly learned that some attorneys were not very well versed in the law as it applies to the elderly or disabled. Issues such as Medicare/Medicaid policies and regulations, asset protection or how to draw up legal papers for end of life issues such as advance directives or medical power of attorney were something with which these attorneys did not have much knowledge or experience.
It was years later that I first heard of elder law attorneys but they were few and far between, even in the metropolitan areas. And some of those attorneys were not well versed in all aspects of the law and were not certified elder law attorneys nor affiliated with a certifying agency. But I also learned the importance for elder law attorneys to have a broad understanding of the laws that may have an impact on any given situation.
The National Elder Law Foundation (Nelf.org) defines elder law as:
The legal practice of counseling and representing older persons and their representatives about the legal aspects of health and long-term care planning, public benefits, surrogate decision-making, older persons' legal capacity, the conservation, disposition and administration of older persons' estates and the implementation of their decisions concerning such matters, giving due consideration to the applicable tax consequences of the action, or the need for more sophisticated tax expertise.
In addition, attorneys certified in elder law must be capable of recognizing issues of concern that arise during counseling and representation of older persons, or their representatives, with respect to abuse, neglect, or exploitation of the older person, insurance, housing, long-term care, employment, and retirement. The certified elder law attorney must also be familiar with professional and non-legal resources and services publicly and privately available to meet the needs of the older persons, and be capable of recognizing the professional conduct and ethical issues that arise during representation.
One of the most important and useful service that you should investigate to see if it would be beneficial to you is estate planning. You should do that while you still have all your mental faculties and can make decisions for yourself.
The knowledge that we will eventually die is one of the things that seems to distinguish humans from other living beings. At the same time, no one likes to dwell on the prospect of his or her own death. But if you postpone planning for your demise until it is too late, you run the risk that your intended beneficiaries -- those you love the most -- may not receive what you would want them to receive whether due to extra administration costs, unnecessary taxes or squabbling among your heirs.
This is why estate planning is so important, no matter how small your estate may be. It allows you, while you are still living, to ensure that your property will go to the people you want, in the way you want, and when you want. It permits you to save as much as possible on taxes, court costs and attorneys' fees; and it affords the comfort that your loved ones can mourn your loss without being simultaneously burdened with unnecessary red tape and financial confusion.
All estate plans should include, at minimum, two important estate planning instruments: a durable power of attorney and a will. The first is for managing your property during your life, in case you are ever unable to do so yourself. The second is for the management and distribution of your property after death. In addition, more and more, Americans also are using revocable (or "living") trusts to avoid probate and to manage their estates both during their lives and after they're gone.
It is highly advisable that you engage an attorney who specializes in estate planning as soon as possible to avoid having your estate managed by a probate court.
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