What does an Elder Law Attorney do?

“Elder Law” is a rare specialty for attorneys. It focuses on the needs of senior Americans who face the maze of government disability, aging and retirement laws and programs. They need help, lots of help!
The National Association of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), the first professional group, was formed in 1987 to improve the quality of legal services to seniors and people with special needs. Today, it has more than 4,500 attorney members. Only 15 Utah attorneys are members. That’s fewer than 2/10th of 1% of the 7,500 licensed Utah attorneys — two lawyers in a thousand!
Attorneys who specialize in elder law have these advantages:
Estate planning. Probably more than 95% of the wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and estate plans written by lawyers in Utah contain provisions which can actually prevent a person from qualifying for medicaid nursing home assistance. That is because estate plans are written to avoid estate tax which, this year, is paid only by Americans who have a net worth of more than $3.5 million ($5.25 million in 2013). Few of us need this, but more than one-third of us will spend time in a nursing home. Elder law attorneys are trained to write unique wills, trusts and powers of attorney which consider the high risks of disability and help avoid the expensive “spend downs” and disqualifications of medicaid.
Guardianships, Conservatorships and Disabilities.  Planning for dementia and other progressive diseases is a special interest of elder law attorneys. Guardianships (ending a person’s ability to make life decisions) and conservatorships (ending a person’s ability to make financial decisions) can destroy the dignity of a person who only sometimes needs help. Elder law attorneys know how to plan for a gradual decline in abilities.

Disability Planning.  Call a hundred attorneys in the phone book and you will be lucky to find one who knows how to help you qualify for medicaid, social security disability, medicare, and SSI. Call one elder law attorney, and you will have the help you need.

Medical malpractice.  Because they need more care, seniors have a much higher risk of medical malpractice. Few attorneys in Utah are trained to file these cases and even fewer are willing to accept elder abuse or nursing home cases. A good elder law attorney who also does litigation (lawsuits) can help you with these claims.

Financial Abuse of the Elderly and other issues.  Some elder law attorneys also have special training in financial abuse of the elderly, age discrimination in employment, probate, will contests, and retirement benefits.

Consult an elder law expert.  If you have heart disease, you don’t consult a dentist. If you have a car with transmission problems, you don’t take it to a muffler shop. If you are a Utah senior with legal problems, which expert do want to help you?

Published March 1, 2009, © 2009 UtahElderLaw.com