May is National Elder Law Month and National Older Americans Month (It’s also National Hamburger Month, in case you need an excuse). These days, it seems like there’s a day, week, or month to honor just about everything, so that when there’s something worth paying attention to, we almost miss it.
National Elder Law Month is one of those noteworthy things. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) sponsors National Elder Law Month specifically to draw attention to legal issues relevant to older people and their families. If elder law is not on your radar screen now, it will be sooner or later—and hopefully later won’t be too late.
What is Elder Law (and Why Should I Care)?
The percentage of older people in the population is rising, and will soon approach twenty percent of all Americans. “Elder law” is a term that covers a variety of legal areas that affect the aging population or people with disabilities, including guardianships and conservatorships, health care, retirement, estate planning, Social Security, long-term care planning, Medicare, Medicaid planning, and more. Elder law also helps address or prevent the financial exploitation or physical abuse of elders.
You or your parents may not feel the urgent need for legal guidance in any of these areas today. But if you live long enough, you will. Why address them now? Simply because doing so gives you time to consider options and plan for the future you want for yourself or for a loved one.
It’s true that many, perhaps most, people wait for a crisis to erupt before addressing elder law issues. At that point, say, when you’ve realized an elderly parent can no longer manage his money, the pressure is on to act quickly to prevent significant losses. This is a little bit like laying train track when you can hear the rumble of the train approaching behind you.
It’s harder to make good decisions when the pressure’s on; you usually have fewer options, and they may be more costly than planning ahead. In addition, planning ahead gives you the peace of mind that in the event of something unforeseen—a health emergency, a financial loss, a serious accident—you or your loved one will get the needed support and services. This is especially important in families where older parents live at some distance from adult children, who may not be able to drop everything and rush to a parent’s side in the event of a crisis.
How to “Celebrate” National Elder Law Month
So, how do you “celebrate” National Elder Law Month? Start by taking stock of your situation. Do you have an estate plan, including financial and medical powers of attorney? If a veteran or a veteran’s widow, do you know if you’re receiving all veterans’ benefits to which you’re entitled? Do you expect that you or a parent might need long-term care, even if in the home, at some point in the future?
It can be difficult to know the right questions to ask yourself, so consider calling an experienced Michigan elder law attorney to help you review your situation or that of a loved one. Taking the time for a consultation now can save untold stress and expense later.
(When you’re done, reward yourself by celebrating National Hamburger Month. But watch the salt on those fries; it’s also National Blood Pressure Month.)