In the U.S., elder law is an area of legal practice that covers various issues involving senior citizens. Financial and estate planning, Social Security and Medicare benefits, and guardianship issues are often addressed by attorneys who specialize in this area. Additionally, these lawyers may handle claims of neglect, elderly abuse, and the violations of seniors' rights.
Estate planning can be complicated. Attorneys that practice in this area of elder law generally assist individuals with important decisions. These can include the drafting of wills, trust accounts, and designating beneficiaries. If left unaddressed by an elderly person, who passes away without legally documenting his or her wishes, the distribution of assets can be left for a probate judge to decide. Important tax issues are also addressed and handled by these attorneys, to insure what is in the best interest of the surviving family.
Elder law attorneys often advise and draft living wills, also known as advance care directives. This is a legal document that states what the individual’s wishes are in the event that he or she becomes incapacitated and incapable of making his or her own healthcare choices. It can legally appoint someone to make such medical decisions. A living will usually contains provisions for the use of extraordinary measures, in the event the elder in question requires artificial life support.
Planning the financial futures of elderly clients is also frequently addressed in this area of law. As part of that, Social Security and Medicare policies can be explained and secured. Elder law professionals can also assist senior citizens in obtaining government benefits, if they are eligible for them.
Long-term care and nursing home assistance can also be arranged through consultations with elder law professionals. Such meetings can empower senior citizens to take control of their own futures. It can also relieve the family of the responsibility of making difficult, spur-of-the-moment choices. In cases in which an older person is unable to properly care for himself, elder law professionals can assist the family in obtaining assistance.
Often advocates of senior citizens' rights, elder law attorneys — and others in the field — also work toward protecting older people against crimes of neglect, fraud, or improper treatment. Fraud can be an issue because the elderly are often seen as an easy target for manipulation and deception. While they do not normally handle cases of robbery or violence, elder law lawyers frequently work with older crime victims, due to their age and typically limited means.