Monday, July 20, 2009

Talk With an Eldercare Attorney

The physician examined Jeff’s father and diagnosed mild dementia. “I had plenty of medical questions,” Jeff said, “but I had legal ones, too. Like who is liable if Dad causes injury or damage through his actions? I’d like to sell the house, but Dad is resisting. Do I need legal guardianship? What are alternatives to this process? Dad doesn’t have a will. What does that mean in the long run?”
In your plan to gather information, an important source is an attorney who specializes in elderlaw or is familiar with the laws and regulations as they relate to seniors in the state in which your parent resides. Because state laws concerning eldercare, senior rights, facilities certification and property ownership differ significantly between states, it is vital to speak with a lawyer in the state of your parent’s residence, not yours. The attorney is one of your parent's care team but may become a source of advice for you in your role as caregiver.

In general, eldercare law is defined by the age of the clients served and by those professionals who specialize in laws and regulations concerning seniors. Your parent's current attorney may be able to fill this role if he is well versed in state regulations and law for this area.

Topics With Which an Eldercare Attorney Can Help
In addition to legal issues that concern younger people, advancing age brings with it new areas in which to learn, explore options and make decisions. An attorney familiar with elderlaw can advise in the following areas:
• Financial and Estate Planning
Estate planning includes the management of a person’s financial assets during the person's lifetime and planning how the estate will be divided upon the person's death through wills, trusts, asset transfers, tax planning, and other methods.
• Planning for Possible Incapacity
In this area, the senior chooses in advance how health care and financial decisions will be made if he is unable to do so. Legal document which might apply include durable powers of attorney, health-care powers of attorney, an Advance Medical Directives statement, living wills, and other means of delegating the decision making. The attorney may also be able to advise on conservatorship and guardianship proceedings in the event that your elder has not planned for incapacity. I'll touch on some of these in future posts.
• Long-term Care Planning
Long-term care issues such as quality of care, admissions contracts, prevention of spousal impoverishment, and resident's rights. It also includes life care or retirement community issues such as evaluating the proposed plan/contract.
• Retirement and Pension Plans
Counseling regarding Social Security and navigating the system (retirement, disability and survivors' benefits) and other public pensions (veterans, civil service) and benefits as well as private pension benefits.
• Insurance Coverage
Medicare, Medicaid, Medigap insurance, and long-term care insurance.
• Housing issues:
Home equity conversion and age discrimination. Buying and selling property.
• Age discrimination issues
The attorney may bring cases under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

The Costs, The Benefits
Consulting an attorney is not inexpensive, but one or two visits may be all that is needed to set you and your parent on the right track. When you think of the cost, also think of the costs to yourself if you don’t consult a professional:
• Consulting an attorney reduces your research time in legal matters. Your time is valuable.
• The attorney can act as a sounding board for your ideas and can determine the legality and legal consequences of what you'd like to do. This will help you avoid legal pitfalls that, in the long run, may cost much more money than the initial consultation.
• Speaking with an attorney about the concerns you have will often make you feel better, give you a feeling of having a little more control and being prepared. Peace of mind is a valuable commodity.

Finally, remember that this is a relatively new area of law and the attorney you choose may not be familiar with all the topics described above. Find out what her area of expertise is and if she is not qualified to give you complete answers, ask her to refer you to someone who can.

Blessings on your day!

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