Fluent in Elder Law
January 23, 2009
I just finished looking at a county bar association listing of attorneys who identify themselves as elder law attorneys. Frankly, I was a little surprised to see that some individuals who are general practitioners also consider themselves to be elder law attorneys. I was disturbed when I saw this, because drafting simple wills and trusts does not qualify an attorney to be an elder law attorney. Wills and trusts may be part of the elder law process at times—but there is so much more involved than that! Furthermore, litigating cases that have nothing to do with probate or other issues that touch the elderly does not qualify an attorney to be an elder law attorney.
Will the real elder law attorney please stand up?
When trying to find an “elder law”-focused attorney, it’s important to understand how elder law differs from traditional estate planning. Estate planning, at its simplest, is death planning. A traditional estate plan is typically designed to do three things:
- Minimize estate taxes; and
- Avoid probate court; and
- Distribute assets from the deceased to the deceased’s heirs.
Elder law, on the other hand, is death planning plus long-term disability and care planning. The elder law attorney is not only dealing with your estate plan, but must also deal with life care issues in the event that you or your spouse has long term health care needs during the course of your lifetime. When there is no long term care asset preservation planning, it is quite common to see families spend a $2,000,000 net worth estate when both a husband and wife have long term care needs. This is a key focus of an elder law attorney.
No one wants to be out of money and out of options before they are out of breath. While it’s not possible to guarantee specific results, the elder law attorney works with clients and families to guide them through the minefield of public benefits, VA benefits, Medicare, Social Security, special needs trusts, powers of attorney, and Medicaid. Our job is to increase the quality of life for our clients, not just plan for a happy post-death asset distribution.
So if you are trying to figure out who is the real elder law attorney, please ask these questions: “How many Medicaid applications do you/your firm do in a year?” and/or “How many veterans do you/your firm assist with the VA aid and attendance benefits per year?” and/or “How many self-settled Pooled Trust plans have you/your firm done this year?” If you are looking for an elder law attorney to do any of these things, please use an attorney who can demonstrate that he or she is working in that area every day. The issues are complex, and you deserve to work with someone who is fluent in elder law.