Why You May Need an Elder Law Attorney...

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February 24, 2004

February 24, 2004

New York City financial planner Chris Trinka knows the in's-and-out's of money management, insurance issues, and tax planning. In his business, General Financial Services, he advises clients on all these complex business matters, and more, every day. But when his father came down with Alzheimer's disease, he recruited the help of an elder law attorney, a lawyer who specializes in the care of, services for, and interests of seniors.

Elder law attorneys represent a growing specialty in the United States, where an aging population is coping with a rapidly expanding caseload of seniors afflicted by Alzheimer's and other incapacitating illnesses. Elder law attorneys focus on the special needs of older persons and people with disabilities. Their special expertise is targeted at protecting the autonomy, quality of life, and financial security of seniors as they age.

People with Alzheimer's disease and their families face special needs. The high costs of caring for a loved one with dementia, combined with the emotionally and physically demanding requirements of caregiving, require highly specialized expertise. Complex estate planning, guardianship issues, and long-term health care needs all come into play. Elder law attorneys can provide unique expertise that even the most financially knowledgeable can benefit from. Some elder care attorneys, for example, have geriatric case managers, nurses, social workers, or other specialists on call. These professionals can provide guidance on such issues as medical care, senior housing, managing finances, and more.

Long-term financial and medical planning is especially important for an illness like Alzheimer's, in which people with the disease may live for ten years or longer and care can be incredibly costly. Since most elder law attorneys do not handle all legal issues affecting the elderly, it's important that you find out whether the lawyer regularly handles matters of utmost concern to you. Issues that may be on your list might include:

  • Qualifying for Medicare, Medicaid, or other public benefits.
  • Effective estate planning, using durable powers of attorney, trusts, wills, and other legal tools.
  • Who will make decisions in the case of incapacity? Who will assume legal guardianship?
  • Planning for long-term care when a loved one can no longer be cared for at home.
  • Should You Hire an Elder Care Attorney?

    There are many issues to consider when seeking help for someone with Alzheimer's disease. For example, if your spouse has Alzheimer's, you may need to make arrangements in the event he or she must enter a nursing home or other long-term-care facility. An elder care attorney specializes in financial and legal issues surrounding these issues, providing not just one-time advice but an ongoing management plan. Establishing a relationship with such a professional can be very helpful in the long run, especially if you begin working with him or her in the earlier stages of a progressive illness like Alzheimer's.

    Finding a qualified elder care attorney requires you ask questions. The field is relatively new, and not all attorneys specialize in all the different areas of care. In addition, some people who say they specialize in elder care have only limited experience in the field. Referrals from friends, colleagues, and fellow support group members can be invaluable for finding an attorney who's right for your situation. If you decide an elder care attorney is right for you, look for someone with expertise in your areas of need. In addition, do your research. The National Association of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), a professional organization of elder law attorneys based in Tucson, Arizona, offers questions you should ask when deciding whether an attorney is right for you.

    • How long have you been in practice?
    • Do you specialize in a particular area of elder law?
    • How long have you been in this field?
    • What percentage of your practice is devoted to elder law?
    • Is there a fee for the initial consultation?
    • What about ongoing fees? What can I expect to pay long-term?
    • What papers and other information should I bring to an initial consultation?

    For More Information

    For more on the role of the elder law attorney, including when an elder law attorney should be contacted and finding an elder law attorney, see the Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Foundation's comprehensive discussion at www.ALZinfo.org, at Elder Law Attorneys.

    The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) now has more than 4,500 members. You can find a list of NAELA elder law attorneys in your state by using the www.ALZinfo.org Resource Locator. Information is also provided on the NEALA website.

    The National Elder Law Foundation, also based in Tucson, provides advice on certified elder law attorneys as well.

    By www.ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer's Information Site.

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