Elder Law

Elder law is an important area of the law for older adults and their loved ones. It includes legal and financial issues such as long-term care planning, discrimination, estate planning, wills, elder abuse, and more.

What is Elder Law?

Elder law is an area of the law that applies to the unique needs of older adults and the issues that affect them. This is a broad area of legal practice that encompasses many subjects relevant to people as they age: estate planning, medical directives, disability benefits, retirement pensions, planning for long-term care, and abuse.[1]

What Are the Different Branches of Elder Law?

A law practice that works with older adult clients and their families covers a wide area of laws at all levels of jurisdiction. They have expertise in a number of legal issues but specialize in those most relevant to seniors.

Estate Planning and Probate

Estate planning is the legal and financial plans you make for your assets and estate after you die. Probate is the legal process your estate goes through to distribute it to beneficiaries. Without a good plan, your assets can take some time to go through probate, making it more difficult and costly for your family.

Estate planning includes drafting a will and naming an executor, creating trusts, choosing beneficiaries, planning to minimize estate taxes and probate, making charitable donations, and planning for funeral arrangements.

Social Security, Retirement, and Disability Benefits

Financial decisions and issues associated with aging may be easy and smooth, but you can also hit roadblocks. Lawyers working in elder law help their clients get social security benefits, disability benefits, and access to Medicare. They also aid their clients with issues arising from retirement pensions and plans.

Long-Term Care Planning

Many people need care as they get older. Elder law specialists help their clients plan for this eventuality. You can make arrangements and financial plans now for assisted living or nursing home care, relieving your family of the burden.

Long-term care planning also includes situations in which the older adult can no longer make their own decisions. It’s important to make choices now while you are able. For instance, choose the people you will authorize to make legal, financial, and medical decisions for you.

Create a medical directive and a living will so they know now what your wishes are if you are incapacitated or reaching the end of life. These documents ensure that your loved ones know how to direct your treatment.

Guardianship and Conservatorship

Ideally, everyone plans to have someone authorized to make decisions for them as the need arises, but this is often not the case. When the loved ones of an older adult find they can no longer make important financial, legal, or medical decisions, they need to step in to help.

Guardianship or conservatorship is a legal designation that gives an individual control over another person’s estate, financial decisions, and daily care. If your older loved one needs this type of care, you must go to the court to petition for a guardian or conservator to be appointed. The term used depends on the state. Some states refer to this as living probate, a process of administering the person’s estate while they are still living.

Age Discrimination

Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination by age in many settings, including employment. Elder law includes tackling this issue, either by negotiating with employers for a resolution or filing a lawsuit to resolve the situation and recover damages.

Elder Abuse

Elder abuse can take many different forms. The abuser takes advantage of their victim’s age. The victim may also be disabled, making them even more vulnerable. Elder abuse may be financial, such as scams targeting older adults.

Physical and emotional abuse may also occur at the hands of caregivers or in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. This can include physical or sexual assaults, neglect, verbal abuse, or abuse with medical care and treatment. Many victims have trouble communicating the abuse.

All states, as well as the federal government, have statutes that specifically protect older adults from abuse. The process for reporting and taking legal action over elder abuse varies depending on the location.[2]

Who Can I Talk to About Elder Law Issues?

If you are not sure what to do about issues related to your own aging or that of a loved one, talk to an elder law attorney. Many lawyers specialize in this area of the law and advocate for older adults. They can provide advice, explain the laws and your rights, assist with benefits and care planning, and take legal actions for you in the case of abuse or discrimination.

Elder law is a broad and important area of the law that covers a lot of issues relevant to everyone as they get older. Those who practice elder law are dedicated to helping and advocating for this vulnerable population and their loved ones.

  1. Cornell Law School. Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). Elder Law.
    Retrieved from: https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/elder_law
  2. The United States Department of Justice. (n.d.). State Elder Abuse Statutes.
    Retrieved from: https://www.justice.gov/elderjustice/elder-justice-statutes-0#:~:text=The%20federal%20government%20and%20states,%2C%20sexual%20abuse%2C%20and%20abandonment.