May is National Elder Law Month, as designated by the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.It is a way to acknowledge the profession that supports seniors and their families with all of their planning needs. And while that sounds interesting, many people still ask, “What do elder law attorneys do?” In Part 2 of this series, “Why May is Special for Elder Law Attorneys,” we will discuss additional ways elder law attorneys help seniors and their families.
Protection from financial exploitation
According to the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA), one in nine seniors reported being abused or exploited during the past twelve months. Of those who are abused or exploited, only 1 in 44 cases of financial abuse is reported. Sadly, 90% of the abusers are family members or trusted others.
Exploitation or abuse can take many forms, including telemarketing scams, reports of false lottery winnings, a family member taking advantage of a joint bank account or misusing a power of attorney, or in-home caregivers over billing the senior, charging the senior for personal expenses, or outright stealing from the senior. Elder law attorneys deal with these types of issues regularly, and can help families protect against potential abuse or exploitation. Attorneys also work with banks to ensure accounts are titled correctly, and that the proper legal documentation is registered with each financial institution.
Estate planning documents can also play a big part in preventing financial abuse or exploitation from a family member, professional, or stranger. The documents are the result of thoughtful discussion with the senior about who should have access to the senior’s assets, and under what circumstances access should be granted. An ongoing relationship with the attorney allows the senior to modify the planning documents as needed to reflect changes in the senior’s health or financial circumstances, or a change in the family situation.
Discussing end-of-life wishes
In 2016 the country heard about the plight of a husband in Oregon whose wife had advanced dementia and would no longer take the food she was offered. The husband lost his battle in court to force the nursing home to stop spoon-feeding her. Although her health care directive stated that she did not want artificial food or hydration, the court said that the nursing home had an obligation to provide her basic essential needs, including food and water. As a result, other states have become more aggressive in allowing individuals to specify whether they want to be provided food and water if they are suffering from advanced dementia.
Elder law attorneys routinely discuss issues like this with seniors. A related topic includes where the senior wants to live if care is needed, who should provide that care, and how it will be paid for. Most importantly, attorneys make sure the senior’s wishes are documented properly. This helps alleviate stress that a serious illness can place on the family, especially when decisions about end-of-life care have to be made.
It’s all about the senior
Elder law attorneys focus on needs particular to the senior. While a few of the issues elder law attorneys help with have been highlighted here, there are numerous other areas that they help seniors with every day, including review of facility admission agreements, help with family disputes, and proper distribution of assets upon a loved one’s death (often referred to as probate).
If you would like to learn more or we can be of assistance to you or a family member, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
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