Lawyers who specialize in Elder Law focus on the legal issues and concerns that a person deals with as he, she or a family member ages. In many respects, elder law is a subset of estate planning, and an elder law lawyer can help to set up wills, trusts and powers of attorney, just as an estate planning lawyer would. What sets elder law apart is the focus of these legal documents, all of which will address specifically how to protect, preserve and distribute assets for eventual, age-related issues, like disability, benefits planning (like Medicaid), abuse, and medical and end-of-life decisions. In fact, many estate planning lawyers also specialize in elder law.
When should I consult an Elder Law attorney?
It is rarely too early to consult with an elder law attorney because it is important to create certain legal documents and relationships prior to the onset of many age-related issues. Therefore, it is important for every adult to consider establishing the following:
- A durable power of attorney, by which you appoint another person and grant that person the authority to make legal decision and transactions on your behalf. A durable power of attorney can be critical if you become incapacitated to such an extent that you are unable to make legal decisions and transactions for yourself.
- A health care proxy, by which you appoint another person to make health care decisions for you should you become incapacitated to such an extent (due to, for example stroke, dementia, or even a bad accident, like falling down stairs) that you are unable to make these decisions for yourself. A health care proxy also allows you to consider and make directions about the kind of treatment you want (and don’t want) in advance.
- A living will, which is similar to and can supplement a health care proxy. The living will allows you to make known end-of-life decisions in advance, specifically, whether you want life-preserving and life-extending measures to be taken in the event you become completely and permanently incapacitated, e.g., you enter a permanent vegetative state.
Can an Elder Law attorney help with an application for Medicaid?
For eligible persons, Medicaid can cover the costs of a variety of care services, such as doctor, hospital, medication, medical supplies and long-term home or nursing home care bills. Although Medicaid is generally a program for people of limited assets and income, under New York law, Medicaid can be available to people with incomes above the level necessary to qualify for public assistance who reach the Medicaid income level by appropriate estate planning. Elder law lawyers can assist you in navigating this complex qualifying system through proper Medicaid planning.
What if a family member is suffering from Alzheimer’s or other incapacitating disease, and neither he/she nor we can care for him or her?
An Elder Law attorney can help you navigate Article 81 of New York’s Mental Hygiene Law, which provides for the appointment of a guardian to manage the personal affairs and/or property of an incapacitated person. An Elder Law attorney can work with the individual at issue and the family (as well as public agencies and nursing homes) to protect the interests of the person alleged to be incapacitated.
What can an Elder Law attorney do for me?
Regardless of your situation or your age, an experienced elder law lawyer can help you create a comprehensive plan for the protection and distribution of your assets as you age and, especially, should you become incapacitated. An elder law lawyer can help you make a will or trust, execute a power of attorney, create a health care proxy and/or a living will, and make other legal arrangements that give you control over difficult health and financial decisions that arise as you age.
Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.