Elder law is not an area of law like tax law or criminal law. Instead, it is the practice of law and the provision of services for a specific client – an aging or disabled individual – who may need assistance with a wide variety of health and financial issues, including estate planning, guardianship and conservatorship, long-term care planning and execution. Elder law may also involve the representation of guardians, conservators, personal representatives and trustees – those entrusted with caring for and protecting a vulnerable individual.
At the center of these services is a client who is facing either changes to their ability to care for themselves, or who have already lost that ability, and the family and friends around them who are watching someone they care for face declining health and/or mental capacity. The situation can be stressful and frightening, particularly for the client or family member who is unfamiliar with what help is available, how much it will cost, where to find it and how to properly evaluate what services are necessary.
Most importantly, everyone involved needs information in order to weigh the solutions to find the answers that meet their needs.
Do you need an attorney for elder care planning? The short answer is yes, and no. Not all of the services needed by an elderly or disabled client require an attorney to provide them. There can be many service providers involved, including social workers, nurses, care providers and nursing homes. However, the most important function of an attorney in elder law is to advise you about the planning opportunities. This includes planning for care, planning on how to pay for care, and having the proper documents reviewed and executed to allow for the planning to be effective. Like any life planning, it should start early and continue throughout life, because the law and the options are constantly changing.
I can advise you on:
- the most effective and efficient use and management of personal and financial resources to meet long-term care objectives;
- planning for the five-year look-back period for Medicaid assistance;
- using trusts properly to protect assets from Medicaid spend down;
- evaluating long-term care insurance plans, and how to use them to help pay for nursing home care;
- how to qualify for Medicaid to pay the nursing home;
- explaining how contracts with long-term care facilities work;
- preparing Wills, Powers of Attorney and Health Care Appointments; and
- Structuring trusts to provide the most benefit for the aging or disabled client.
The first step is to find out the facts about the programs that are available. Both Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the District of Columbia’s Department of Health Care Finance provide information on-line about Medicaid eligibility and requirements. In addition, a variety of insurance companies provide on-line information on long-term care policies for nursing home care coverage. I have also posted a variety of fact sheets in my blogs about the costs of long-term care, how long-term care insurance works, and how Medicaid works.