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6 Ways an Elder Care Attorney Can Help Family Caregivers

Written by Rebecca Schier-Akamelu
 about the author
6 minute readLast updated November 1, 2021

If you care for a parent, spouse, or aging loved one, you’re aware of the challenges people face as they age — health care, housing, financial well-being, and long-term care come to mind. Though these issues can feel overwhelming, an elder care attorney is specially trained to navigate the complex waters of aging, so you can devote your time to your loved one instead.

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Read on to see what an elder attorney can provide and determine whether you may benefit from their services.

Why you should consider working with an elder care lawyer

An elder law attorney can help family caregivers explore options for their loved one’s current situation and explain how to plan for what could happen down the road, especially if a debilitating illness necessitates long-term care.

According to the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), elder law encompasses many fields of law, with elder law attorneys specializing in numerous areas, including:

  • Administration and management of estates and trusts
  • Estate planning and probate
  • Trusts, wills, and other financial documents
  • Long-term care placements in senior living communities and nursing homes
  • Medicare and Social Security appeals and claims
  • Elder abuse and fraud
  • The preservation or transfer of assets to avoid spousal impoverishment when a spouse enters a nursing home

Elder care attorneys see an abundance of financial and medical circumstances that seniors and their families encounter. This experience can bring insight to a wide range of situations, from choosing long-term care arrangements to preparing for future scenarios.

“The family has already gotten hundreds of answers from attorneys, financial advisors, family, and friends,” says Patrick Simasko, a Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) in Mount Clemens, Michigan. “The elder law attorney has to listen to the situation and give the advice that is best for the client — not the advice they want to hear, but what’s best, given the situation.”

Here are some specific ways an elder care lawyer can help your family.

1. Developing a plan for long-term care

Families are frequently split on the type of care they want for their parents, says Simasko. Without strong emotions influencing them, an elder care attorney can offer an objective opinion to develop a long-term plan.

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“Every parent wants to stay in the home, but sometimes that’s not the best advice. First and foremost, the attorney has to recommend what strategies to implement to ensure that the aging loved one is protected,” Simasko explains.

Elder law attorneys focus on problems and issues that families face as parents or spouses age, says Anthony J. Enea, a CELA in White Plains, New York.

“An elder law attorney goes over what kind of care is required and whether the person is able to stay at home or may need long-term care in a nursing home,” says Enea. “Then we look at steps to protect assets in case of long-term care.”

2. Ensuring a durable power of attorney is in place

If your loved one has a condition such as Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia, you may worry about their ability to make decisions regarding their care. An elder law attorney can work with you and your loved one to prepare a durable power of attorney. This allows an appointed person to make medical or financial decisions on behalf of your loved one even if they become incapacitated.

If your family member becomes incapacitated and did not set up a durable power of attorney, an elder lawyer can help begin guardianship proceedings to allow you or another guardian to handle your loved one’s personal and financial affairs.

3. Helping with access to Medicaid

Medicaid eligibility depends on your financial assets as well as the cost of the medical treatments you need, and requirements vary by state.

A CELA typically is familiar with Medicaid and can help you and your loved one apply for benefits. But even before they help you figure out if you’re eligible, a qualified elder care attorney can offer advice on whether Medicaid is the right decision for your future, including how it might affect your financial decisions.

4. Applying for veterans benefits

Many veterans may not realize they’re eligible for the Aid and Attendance benefit, which can help offset the cost of long-term care. An elder care attorney can guide you in applying for this benefit or provide information about other benefits and government resources.

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If you need an elder lawyer for your aging veteran, check out the database of accredited attorneys maintained by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

5. Protecting assets from financial exploitation

Elder law attorneys can help family members identify risky situations that could lead to financial exploitation. When dad and mom slow down or their health declines, a bad neighbor has the opportunity to come over and start “helping out,” or an unscrupulous adult child might try to obtain access to financial accounts, says Simasko.

“Protecting their assets from dishonest predators is essential. An elder law attorney can report potential criminal activity or fraud to stop it or advise the children,” Simasko notes.

6. Setting up a living trust

It’s understandable that your loved one wants to make sure their estate goes where they want it to, like to relatives or organizations they love. Without proper estate planning, your loved one’s assets can go through probate, which can be a long process.

living trust allows your loved one to maintain control of their assets, even though they’re no longer considered part of their estate. Laws for creating a living trust vary by state, and you’ll need an elder law attorney to guide you through this process.

How do I choose an elder law attorney?

If you’ve gotten this far and realized your aging senior may need legal assistance, you’re probably wondering how to start your search for an elder attorney. After all, not everyone claiming to be an elder law attorney has the requisite experience and knowledge to advise aging clients.

A CELA must have practiced elder law for a certain number of hours each week for a specific number of years and participated in a required number of hours of continuing education, according to the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF).

Search NELF or NAELA to find a certified elder care attorney in your city or state. You can also visit NAELA for more information about elder law attorneys. As you search, remember that you’re looking for an impartial person who will keep your loved one’s best interests at heart.

Meet the Author
Rebecca Schier-Akamelu

Rebecca Schier-Akamelu is a writer at A Place for Mom. She is passionate about helping seniors and their family members navigate the aging process and presently focuses on memory care. Prior to her work at A Place for Mom, Rebecca worked as a freelance marketing copywriter in the Kansas City area. She holds a digital media and marketing certificate from Duke University and a bachelor’s degree from Creighton University.

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