Seniors and the elderly face unique legal issues that are different from those they faced when they were younger. Attorneys who specialize in Elder Law have a greater understanding of the specific issues and limitations that seniors face. If you or someone you love needs help with any of the following legal issues, you can find attorneys certified as Elder Law specialists at the National Elder Law Foundation website.
Estate planning is the process of arranging the disposal of a person’s estate while they are still alive. It is intended to maximize the value of the estate for the intended beneficiaries by reducing taxes and other expenses. Each state has its own very specific laws about what can and cannot be in a will, trust, or other estate planning document.
Power of Attorney
A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that allows you to appoint a person or organization (your “agent”) to manage your affairs for you should you become unable to do so yourself. A power of attorney can grant either broad or specific powers to your agent. Depending on how it is written, a power of attorney may go into effect immediately once the POA document is properly finalized, or only become effective should you become incapacitated.
Health Care Directives
A health care directive is a legal document that states your wishes about your health care. A health care directive could take the form of a living will, leaving specific instructions for your treatment. Another type of health care directive is a health care proxy that authorizes your agent to make your medical decisions for you if you become unable to make those decisions for yourself.
A conservatorship or adult guardianship is a legal relationship between a competent adult or organization and a ward. A ward is a person with a disability that causes incompetency. A conservatorship is meant to ensure the well being of the ward by allowing a competent individual to make decisions for the ward who is not capable of doing so. A conservatorship often requires a great deal of paperwork and court hearings.
Government Benefits (Social Security, Medicare, VA, Food Stamps, etc.)
Seniors may be eligible for a variety of different government benefit programs, such as social security, Medicare, Medicaid, Veteran Affairs (VA), or food stamps. Elder Law attorneys can provide assistance by walking their clients through the applications process, appealing a denied application, or creating an estate plan that helps ensure eligibility for certain programs.
Resident & Patient Rights in Long-Term Care Facilities
Federal law requires long-term care facilities to promote and protect the rights of their residents and patients. Residents may also be protected by applicable Medicare or Medicaid requirements and state laws or regulations. Elder Law attorneys can provide assistance in enforcing patient and resident rights and bringing legal action when abuse has occurred.
Seniors often face discrimination in the workplace, with employers refusing to hire them, give them raises, or promote them. There are many federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination against individuals based upon their age. Each of these laws has specific enforcement provisions.
Estate planning attorneys are well-versed in the laws and rules relating to inheritance and gift taxes and can provide valuable guidance when drawing up your wills, trusts, and other estate documents. Seniors who are disabled or have modest incomes may be eligible for special tax credits. Federal income tax breaks for elderly taxpayers include a partial exemption for social security benefits and a larger standard deduction. Many states that levy income tax offer additional tax breaks for the elderly including retirement income, pension benefits, social security, and property tax reductions.