Speak with an elder law attorney before it is too late!
Okay sure, your life is calm now. Perhaps you are retired or nearing retirement. Perhaps your children are independent or nearing an age of independence. But soon enough you will be a senior adult with completely different legal needs than your younger self. While speeding tickets, dissolution of marriage and family law issues were paramount to you as a younger adult, senior adults face even more formidable legal topics that require professionals well equipped to handle the sensitive emotional and physical needs of senior adults.
Many seniors incorrectly assume their family members will be willing or able to take care of all matters that will arise. Everyone should be pitching in at your time of need, right? Unfortunately, not all family members feel the duty of care to senior adults. In other families, sibling rivalry causes ineffective services to parents. Still other children do not live near their parents. Finally, many children lack the education or income to address their own lives, let alone the lives of their parents.
So the laissez faire approach of assuming children and loved ones will help is risky and often leads to many problems, both for seniors, disabled persons, and their loved ones. Afterall, Benjamin Franklin was quoted as wisely saying “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Failing to plan can wind up being far more expensive for senior adults. According to payingforseniorcare.com, a website dedicated to helping seniors and others understand their financial options for long term care, the national average amount paid for monthly rent and additional fees based upon the level of attention and care ranged between $2,844 to $9,266 in 2019. Therefore, when it comes to proactive conversations with elder law attorneys, the phrases “a penny saved is a penny earned” and “don’t do today what can be done tomorrow” may not be in your best interests.
Hiring an elder law attorney is a necessity for anyone facing the aging process, particularly when a debilitating disease or condition is involved or likely to soon develop. But speaking to elder law attorneys is often a topic of procrastination for many senior adults. Such meetings cause seniors to confront their own mortality and face how unpredictable their final years may be. Still others confront the realities of their family dynamics and come to realize their children and family are not to be trusted. Unfortunately, for some careless senior adults, putting off this important discussion with an attorney until it is too late may mean they are no longer competent to make informed decisions on their own. Those same family members and friends who may in unable to handle the decision making are left with emergency elder law decisions that are costly and time-consuming.
Like physicians who practice medicine in certain specialties, attorneys who focus on elder law intimately understand the issues facing senior adults and disabled persons and the laws that affect them. Those attorneys are the special advocates you should speak with now to address the senior adult legal topics that are likely racing up on you right now. Most elder law attorneys address several legal topics affecting senior adults, disabled persons, or their respective family members. Those legal topics can include the following:
- Health and personal care planning (health care powers of attorney, living wills); and
- Financial representation (financial powers of attorney, financing housing options, estate planning, income and gift tax matters); and
- Will and trust planning; and
- Planning for long-term care (identifying useful public benefits, such as Medicaid, obtaining and maintaining eligibility, and protecting assets); and
- Guardianship and conservatorship; and
- Rights of residents in long-term care facilities; and
- Retirement and employment matters (age and disability discrimination, grandparents’ rights)
In addressing the above-written legal topics, elder law attorneys often perform the following duties:
- Preparation of documents such as wills and trusts; and
- Serve as advocates in probate administrations; and
- Prepare living probate documents such as durable powers of attorney and living wills; and
- Serve as advocates in petitions for guardianship and conservatorship; and
- Serve as advocates to protect residential care and nursing home resident rights; and
- File nursing home abuse claims
Elder law attorneys generally charge by the hour based upon the type of work and the amount of work required by their clients. This hourly fee arrangement could apply to civil litigation topics, document review and serving as an advocate in contract negotiations, probate administrations, and abuse allegation cases. But in other instances, they may charge a flat amount for document preparation when creating wills, trusts, powers of attorney, living wills and other items.
When meeting with an elder law attorney for the first time, remember they rarely address all legal topics known to man. So, speak freely with the attorney and share your story in hopes the professional will confirm experience in your specific areas of concern. Here are some questions you may ask when you take that important step to speak with an attorney:
- What are your fees and how are they computed?
- How long have you been practicing elder law?
- Have you represented clients like me and my family?
- What difficulties do you see with my topics?
- Do you feel comfortable working with me and my family? If not, what needs to change?
- What information will you require of me?
The age of your elder law attorney is not the determining factor. But when seeking legal help from an elder law attorney, make certain they are old enough to have addressed your particular subject area of need often. Young associate attorneys often lack experience with the nuances of elder law topics. Of course, an attorney nearby can save you money in the end as it reduces attorney and client travel and if court appearances are necessary, local attorneys may have personal experience with the court personnel and judges. For example, an attorney from St. Louis or Kansas City may not be a wise decision for a Mid-Missouri client. In addition to years of experience and specialized knowledge in your subject area of need, look for an elder law attorney that appears sensitive to the important topics at hand, is organized, has answers to your general questions, and their office space reflects professionalism and structure.
An elder law attorney can help senior adults establish control over their remaining years and the distribution of their assets upon their passing. The attorney will likely work by the hour when filing pleadings, and negotiating topics that will determine a senior’s health care, when serving as an advocate during probate administration, and when addressing other topics. Flat fees are often required when drafting documents. By speaking to an elder law attorney now, you can avoid financial disasters and establish how your friends and family will address your wishes and avoid arguments when you are deceased or in a time of need.
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.