Elder law topics and timeline: What to expect
According to the World Health Organization, people worldwide are living longer. As a result of plentiful food supplies, improving healthcare options, and modern technological conveniences, most people can expect to live into their sixties and beyond. Every country in the world is experiencing a growth of older people. In 2020, the number of people aged 60 years and older outnumbered children under the age of five years. The WHO predicts between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will nearly double from 12% to 22%.
Population aging, the shift in distribution of a country’s population towards older ages, may have started in high-income countries such as Japan and the United States, it is now a trend in low- and middle-income countries as well. By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population over 60 years will live in low- and middle-income countries. Findlaw, a website for legal professionals predicts that by 2030, 1 in 6 people in the world will be aged 60 years or over. If true, the share of the population aged 60 years and over will increase from 1 billion in 2020 to 1.4 billion in 2030. At that pace, by 2050, the world’s population of people aged 60 years and older will double to 2.1 billion. All the while, the number of people aged 80 years or older is expected to triple between 2020 and 2050 to reach 426 million.
Older age is characterized by the emergence of several complex health states commonly called geriatric syndromes. They are often the consequence of multiple underlying factors and include frailty, urinary incontinence, falls, delirium, pressure ulcers, hearing loss, cataracts, refractive errors, back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, depression, and dementia. Some older adults will experience several of these conditions at the same time.
In addition to health concerns, older adults will face legal topics at various stages in their lives. Most legal definitions and eligibility benefits say age 65 is when caregivers need to be more aware or start to step in, but legal topics can also arise much before age 65.
Elder law topics focus on legal issues for people over the age of 65 and their families. Some unwisely consider elder law to only include estate planning. In doing so, those unfortunate parties disregard important topics such as: (a) an older person’s legal rights; (b) available advocates on their behalf; (c) ways to meet the diverse needs of the older adult population; and (d) signs of elder abuse.
Estate planning – to occur throughout your lifetime. An experienced elder law attorney will be prepared to consider multiple issues for older adults. Estate planning is paramount and should begin when you are a legal adult. Understandably, many unknowing people will not begin the process until they have significant assets, get married, or start a family, but should health issues form as a younger adult, or should you meet an unexpected death, your family and loved ones may be left with a disastrous list of legal problems to address. The two primary documents that are pillars in estate planning are a Last Will & Testament and a Trust. A Will is a written legal document that names the people or organizations receiving your assets after death. On the other hand, a Trust is a document that specifies how assets will be managed while someone is alive and after death.
- Healthcare and potential injuries – could occur throughout your lifetime. Few of us can predict when a healthcare crisis or potential injury will occur. You may slip and fall, have a serious illness diagnosis, or be involved in an accident. As a result, the preparation of a Power of Attorney for Healthcare Decisions is something all adults should address throughout their lives. After the execution of a POA for Healthcare Decisions, should injury occur and be so severe that you become incapacitated or incompetent temporarily or for a longer term, your POA agent or attorney-in-fact can step in and alleviate the need for an expensive guardianship proceeding.
- Adult abuse – could occur throughout your lifetime. There are four broad categories for adult abuse. They are physical abuse, financial exploitation, neglect, and self-neglect. There is no age, culture, gender identity, or financial status that determines if someone will endure adult abuse. Physical Abuse is the willful infliction of physical pain, injury, or unreasonable confinement. It includes, but is not limited to, beating, choking, or burning, inappropriate medication or tying or locking a person up. It also includes sexual abuse, which occurs when a person has been forced, tricked, threatened, or otherwise coerced into sexual contact against one’s will. Material Abuse, sometimes called financial exploitation, is the misuse of an elder’s money or property. It includes deception, diverting income, mismanagement of funds and taking money or possessions against a person’s will. Neglect occurs when a caregiver’s failure to provide adequate food, shelter, clothing, medical or dental care results in significant danger to the physical or mental health of an older person in his/her care. Self-neglect means a significant danger to a person’s physical or mental health because the person is unable or fails to provide him/herself with adequate food, shelter, clothing, medical or dental care.
- Long-term care planning – age 65 or older. It may be difficult for healthy people in their 40s and 50s to envision a time in the future when they need long-term care for themselves or their spouse, but those in their 60s may be facing that topic now. Losing the ability to live independently is likely to raise anxiety, both about what may happen and about the financial implications. It is important to recognize early indicators that care might be needed. One sign to watch for is increased difficulty performing the daily activities. These activities are integral to independent living and include housekeeping, managing money, taking medications, preparing meals, shopping for the household, communicating via phone and email, caring for pets, and being able to respond to urgent situations. Difficulties with these activities typically precede the need for long-term care assistance.
- Admittance to a residential care facility or nursing home – age 75 or older. According to Abby McClain, a contributor for Zippia, whose article is entitled 25 Insightful Nursing Home Statistics : Residents, Locations, and Long-Term Care, as of 2023, there are about 1.4 million residents in U.S. nursing homes. There are about 26,514 nursing homes in the U.S. 70% of people who reach the age of 65 will need long-term care at some point in life and by 2050, up to 30 million people in the Americas will require long-term care services. If you know someone experiencing any of the following, they should consider assisted living: (a) a disability endangers their safety; (b) they cannot walk or use stairs; (c) they wander or get lost and need supervision; (d) their friends and family have caregiver burnout; (e) in-home care has become problematic; and (f) friends and family do not live close enough to assist them.
- Seeking legal help – should occur throughout your lifetime. As Napoleon Hill said, “Do not wait: the time will never be ‘just right’. Start where you stand and work whatever tools you may have at your command and better tools will be found as you go along.” A good elder law attorney will always step in to help you, but they can help you much more efficiently if you do not approach them in an emergency. Plan accordingly.
Todd Miller is a monthly contributor and regularly writes and speaks on various legal topics including bankruptcy, estate planning, probate, and elder law. He formed the Law Office of Todd Miller, LLC, 1305 Southwest Blvd., Ste. A, Jefferson City, Missouri in 2006. He has been awarded the Substantial Contributor Attorney Award by the Missouri Bar and ranked as one of the “Top Attorneys in Missouri” by The Legal Network. Mr. Miller earned his juris doctorate degree from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1999 and graduated with honors from Lincoln University in 1991. You may find him at www.toddmillerlaw.com (573) 634-2838 or on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.