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  • Writer's pictureRuth-Ann E. Toups

What is Elder Law?

When I share that I am an elder law attorney, I am often asked what exactly that means. The role of an elder law attorney encompasses much more than the traditional role of an attorney. As an elder law attorney, I often help clients not only with their legal needs but also act as a liaison to other resources they may need to consider. In a sense, an elder law attorney should be a guide through the aging process. Your elder law attorney should help with four major considerations: planning for incapacity, asset protection, planning for long-term care, and connecting you to new resources.

Planning for Incapacity. As we live longer, more and more of us are faced with incapacity as we age. Incapacity is not black or white, rather it is a spectrum that we may move along, backwards and forwards, as we age. One of the biggest risks you may face is incapacity. What if you are unable to make health care decisions for yourself? What if you are unable to pay your bills yourself? What if your pet is left at home and you are not able to return immediately? These are all important questions that need to be considered.

The key to incapacity planning is planning pre-crisis. Too many people wait until there is a crisis—until incapacity is upon them—to plan. Sometimes it can be too late to act. In those circumstances, a court often must become involved. The matter can become expensive and time consuming for loved ones. Further, we are all left guessing at what you may have wanted. Putting a plan in place ahead of your incapacity puts you in the driver’s seat.

Finally, your elder law attorney should spend time understanding your goals in the event of incapacity. Most of us would like to maintain as much independence as possible while also planning for potential dependence. Most of us would like to stay in our home as long as possible. Your attorney can help develop a plan to help you achieve those goals.

Asset Protection. As we age several potential threats to our assets arise, such as senior scams, a potential accident, taxes, and nursing homes. Elder law attorneys can help evaluate your assets that may be at risk and what you may stand to lose. An attorney can help develop a plan to protect your assets in the event they become threatened.

Planning for Long-Term Care. Your attorney should work with you and those you trust to develop a plan for long-term care. The plan should include considerations such as where you may want to live, how you would want to be cared for, who will play what legal roles, and how you plan to finance your long-term care.

Connect to New Resources. Many individuals have not explored the many options that are available to help us as we age. Your elder law attorney should be able to connect you with other resources, services, and individuals that can help you achieve your goals.

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