Elder Law: Comprehensive Legal Services For You or Your Aging Loved Ones
Our clients at The Law Office of Henry Nash — most of whom reside in Rockville or elsewhere in Montgomery County, Maryland — often ask us exactly what types of matters “elder law” includes. As a relatively new area of legal practice, this expansive area of law covers virtually all the legal needs of senior adults.
Basics of Elder Law
As individuals age, their health and financial concerns change significantly. With life expectancy increasing and our older population growing rapidly in recent decades, the legal profession now includes lawyers who provide “elder law” services that focus specifically on the legal needs of the aging population.
Elder law emerged as a special area of legal practice in the 1970s, following passage of the Older Americans Act in 1965. Today, lawyers with an interest in helping older clients, their families, and caregivers embrace the practice of elder law as the best way of serving all the legal needs of those clients.
Attorneys who practice elder law address pressing needs of senior clients and their families. The practice also includes helping aging adults maintain autonomy and financial security through planning focused on healthcare needs, long-term care, and finances.
The practice of elder law covers client needs in a broad range of substantive areas of the law. In that way, it differs substantially from many types of law practice that focus on a single substantive area, rather than the diverse needs of a specific group of clients.
For example, personal injury attorneys handle just one type of issue for their clients. In contrast, an elder law practice — like ours at The Law Office of Henry Nash — addresses all of our clients’ needs relating to healthcare and financial concerns that arise later in life.
Elder law includes some familiar areas, like estate planning, as well as topics unfamiliar to many people. Key concerns that frequently arise in elder law include several specific types of matters.
Many people think that estate planning only determines what happens to their property and money after they die. While estate planning documents do govern distribution of an estate after death, a sound estate plan also covers potential events that may occur during the life of the person executing the plan.
As people age, the part of their estate plan relating to lifetime arrangements becomes especially relevant. When health issues arise and financial management becomes critically important, several different documents in an estate plan provide peace of mind.
Depending on an individual’s circumstances, the main document in the estate plan is either a will or trust. In addition, other documents in the estate plan communicate the individual’s wishes concerning his or her own healthcare and finances. Those documents also ensure that if the individual can no longer make decisions himself or herself, a person selected by the individual will make decisions.
Estate planning documents that are particularly important for aging individuals include:
- Durable financial power of attorney
- Advance healthcare directives, including a durable healthcare power of attorney, living will, and Medical Order for Life Sustaining Treatment (MOLST)
As a core component of elder law, estate planning is essential for everyone as they age. Your estate planning goals include more than determining property distribution after death. You want to make sure that people you trust can implement your wishes during your lifetime, regardless of what events may transpire.
Long Term Care and Medicaid Planning
Long-term care arrangements, long-term care planning, and Medicaid (Medical Assistance) planning are essential parts of elder law. With the skyrocketing cost of long-term care, financial planning for these contingencies is necessary for many seniors.
Medicaid is a federally-funded, state-administered program that may pay part or all of long-term care costs for elders. The program has financial eligibility requirements.
Planning for Medicaid coverage in advance often can help individuals qualify for coverage. There is a five-year “look back” period for Medicaid, so waiting until the last minute to plan is not advisable.
In Maryland, Medicaid planning sometimes includes creating a special needs trust or supplemental needs trust in anticipation of long-term care needs.
An important part of elder law includes assisting family members in obtaining guardianship of an aging loved one through a court proceeding. If an elder becomes incapacitated and does not have durable financial and healthcare powers of attorney, guardianship authorizes a specific person to manage the senior’s affairs.
State law provides for two types of guardianship — guardian of the person (for personal needs and care) and guardian of the property (for financial matters). A guardianship action in Maryland court specifies which type of guardian is necessary. Often, a different person serves in the each role.
Other Elder Law Concerns
In addition to the specific concerns discussed above, many other types of matters arise in elder law, including:
- Probate and estate administration
- Medicare and Medicaid claims and appeals
- Social Security and Social Security Disability claims and appeals
- Long-term health insurance matters
- Nursing home issues
- Elder emotional and physical abuse
- Fraud and financial exploitation of seniors
- Mental health law issues
- Public and private retirement, pension, or survivor benefits
When Should You Talk With an Elder Law Attorney?
If you are a senior, it is never too soon to discuss your circumstances and future with an elder law attorney. Reviewing or creating your estate plan is an excellent starting point. Your elder law attorney will make sure you have all the right documents in place to protect you during your lifetime, as well as and ensure that your estate benefits your heirs according to your wishes.
By nature, elder law attorneys are compassionate, caring people, who want the best for your loved one and your family. If your family includes an aging loved one, talking with an experienced elder law attorney helps you and your loved one prepare for the future.
An attorney who focuses on elder law understands the sensitive, emotional issues and difficulty families experience when a loved one ages. When you turn to an experienced elder law attorney for help, your attorney does more than assist in solving legal problems and answering legal questions. He or she understands your situation and helps you navigate through the legal and personal issues you face.
A myriad of federal and state laws apply to the issues that arise with aging individuals. Attempting to use a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) service or general forms for an estate plan, submitting your own Medicaid application, or pursuing other self-help options is not a good decision. Legal requirements for documents and eligibility rules for programs are strict. Mistakes can be costly in both financial and emotional terms.
Talk With an Experienced Rockville, Maryland Elder Law Attorney
Attorney Henry Nash has extensive experience helping seniors and their families work through the complex laws and concerns inherent in elder law matters. At The Law Office of Henry Nash, we work with clients in Rockville, throughout Montgomery County, and elsewhere in Maryland. We also assist out-of-state clients who have loved ones residing in the state.
If you have any questions or concerns about any issues relating to elder law, we welcome you to call us at (301) 998-6111 or contact us through our online form.