It’s May! The snow has finally melted away, spring has well and truly sprung, and, of course, it’s National Elder Law Month. We don’t mark Elder Law Month with pageants and parades, but we do mark it—and we hope you will, too.
As always, a brief reminder about what elder law is, because many people are confused when they hear the term. Unlike personal injury law, contract law, or family law, which deal with specific legal issues, elder law deals with any legal matter that might affect an older or disabled person. An elder law attorney might deal with issues ranging from estate planning and probate to long-term care planning, elder rights advocacy, tax planning, veterans’ benefits, Social Security, access to services, and more.
This breadth of practice is important, because the legal issues of older people do not exist in a vacuum. An action you take in making an estate plan, for instance, could negatively affect your tax burden or your ability to qualify for Medicaid should you need long-term care. An elder law attorney looks at the big picture to make sure your golden years are as comfortable, secure, and happy as possible.
Here are three suggestions for how you should observe Elder Law Month 2019.
A big part of what elder law attorneys do for their clients is estate planning, and of course, estate planning is more than just drafting wills and trusts. It includes durable powers of attorney, advance directives, beneficiary designations, and more.
Most people understand that they need to have an estate plan, but a surprising number don’t realize how important it is to review their estate plan every few years. All kinds of things make this necessary. Existing beneficiaries may die; new children or grandchildren may be born or adopted. You may dispose of certain assets and acquire others. Your relationships with certain beneficiaries, or their needs, may change. Not only is it possible that at least one of these things will happen, it would be unlikely for none of them to occur.
You may not need to review your estate plan every year. But if it has been at least a few, or if your life has changed significantly in the recent past (such as a divorce, birth of a child, or becoming widowed), let this Elder Law Month be a reminder to consider whether your estate plan needs updating.
Recent research suggests that over half of people will need long-term care at some point in their lives.
Nobody likes to think about the possibility of needing long-term care, especially when they are in the prime of life. But that’s exactly when you should plan for the possibility, someday, of needing care in a nursing home or other long-term care facility. Recent research suggests that over half of people will need long-term care at some point in their lives. Ten percent of people over 65 right now have Alzheimer’s dementia. While there’s a good chance you may not need long-term care, there’s also a pretty good chance that you might.
And that care is expensive, ranging from an average cost of just over $50,000 per year for a private room in Louisiana to over $200,000 per year for a private room in Manhattan. Most people would be hard-pressed to pay for long-term care out of pocket for very long. Medicaid will kick in after a while, but unless you have planned otherwise, you may have to spend down almost all your assets first. Medicaid planning is essential to avoid this outcome.
We are not trying to frighten you. If you are reading this, you still have time to plan for long-term care. The best way to do so is by sitting down with an elder law attorney.
Once you have considered your estate plan and possible future need for long-term care, your next step should be to find a qualified elder law attorney with whom to work. You can start by asking friends for referrals, but you should also look for an attorney who is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). Membership in this organization means that the attorney devotes a significant part of his or her practice to elder law issues and is committed to keeping up with changes in the law.
When you meet with an attorney, pay attention to not only what the attorney seems to know, but how he or she treats you. You deserve to be treated with respect and as a partner in planning for your future.
If you have questions about elder law or updating your estate or long-term care planning, we invite you to contact our law office—during Elder Care Month, or any time.