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Elder Law: Do you need it?

If Elder Law Month doesn’t sound relevant or interesting to you, consider a statistic from Genworth that 7 out of 10 people will need long-term care services at some point during their lifetime. In addition, the national MONTHLY median cost of this care in 2020 ranged from $4,400 for home care to $7,800 for nursing home care. The majority of this care is NOT covered by insurance.

Enter the practice of elder law.  Not all elder attorneys include long-term care planning as part of their services, but for those attorneys who possess a holistic view of aging and legal needs, long-term care planning is an integral piece of the puzzle.  The practice of elder law is complex, involving not only legal issues, but financial, social, and moral issues as well.   It differs from other areas of law in that the goal is to serve the overall needs of a specific population, instead of focusing on technical knowledge in a certain type of law.

According to Lawrence Frolik and Richard Kaplan in their book, Elder Law In A Nutshell, there are four trends which have contributed to the development of this type of practice. People are living longer. People have increasing medical costs due to advanced age.  The education level of older adults is higher, which leads to increased visibility and communication of their needs. Lastly, family dynamics have changed. Adult children who may have shouldered caregiving burdens in the past are now unable to do so because they have increased job responsibilities outside of the home, live far away, and/or have young children due to delayed childbearing.

The first thoughts that often come to mind when people hear the term “elder law” are wills, trusts, estate planning, and estate administration.  There is a perception that an elder law attorney is needed only to help you get your affairs in order before you die or wrap them up afterward.

While some elder law attorneys may concentrate on these aspects of practice, others (including Keystone), focus on the older adult as a whole person, and seek to address all of the issues that concern the older adult and family now as well as later  In addition to the services listed above, information and assistance can also be provided related to: the preparation for future health care needs and related financial obligations, navigation of the health care system during a crisis, determination of safe housing options based on current and anticipated needs, and development of a caregiver support system. 

Elder law attorneys work with older adults as well as individuals with special needs.   Ideally, they also work together with other professionals such as accountants, financial planners, insurance agents, and health care workers to maximize each client’s quality of life and prioritize each client’s needs and goals. 

As we age, our needs and goals naturally change.  Elder law attorneys understand the dynamics of aging and the resulting moral and social implications that can affect family relationships, decision-making, and planning.  These dynamics require unique skills to manage, since an elder law attorney frequently works with a family unit in an emotional situation.  Knowledge of the law is not enough. Strong interpersonal and problem-solving skills are essential, since many situations that elder law attorneys face are not black and white.  Family members may also possess unrealistic expectations about care services or have difficulty coming to agreement on a course of action, which requires additional finesse.

Usually, the client of an elder law attorney is the oldest family member, or the one that requires the most care.  Even when an individual is experiencing symptoms of dementia and cannot make decisions independently, this individual is still be considered to be the client. The attorney is obligated to make recommendations based on the client’s best interest.  

How do you determine if you need an elder law attorney?  Does your situation involves one or more of the following:  health and long-term care planning, disability/special needs planning, public benefits (including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security), powers of attorney or guardianship, determining legal capacity for decision-making, and handling all aspects of an individual’s estate?  An elder law attorney can help you put the pieces of your puzzle together.  Other issues which are often intertwined with the above needs include insurance; housing; abuse, neglect, or exploitation of an older adult; retirement; and identification of and access to public and private resources. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys ( can help you find an elder law attorney in your area.

Karen Kaslow, RN, BSN