An important question I am asked from time to time is "what is Elder Law?" “Elder Law” is a legal practice of counseling and representing older persons, their families, and legal representatives about the legal aspects of the following:
- health and long-term care planning
- public benefits such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and Veterans benefits
- surrogate decision-making and incapacity planning
- the legal capacity of an older person to make health and financial decisions
- the conservation, disposition, and settlement of older persons’ estates and the implementation of their decisions regarding such estate planning, including considering any applicable income, estate, and gift tax issues
Elder Law was first recongized as a distinct legal specility in the 1980's. The development of Elder Law occurred in response to the fact that people are living longer lives and in order to assist with the legal issues and questions that people have that occurred along with that.
Why estate planning attorneys have always counseled people on Wills, Trusts, and probate, those issues really focus more on what happens after someone passes away. We consider such estate planning to be an important component of elder law, but the elder law attorney also considers and helps with issues that occur when one is still living, but older such as what happens if you need nursing home or assisted living care, what happens if you cannot make your own decisions due to dementia, and assisting the people you designated as your representatives (patient advocates, incapacity trustees, financial agents) in carrying out their responsibilities.