Elder law is not necessarily defined by any specific technical legal distinctions. Rather, elder law is more accurately defined by the people that it serves—older individuals, most commonly referred to as seniors or elders. Elder law also encompasses the broad area of planning for persons with disabilities.
Attorneys who concentrate their practice in elder law focus on the legal needs of seniors and work with a wide variety of legal directives and planning techniques to meet the stated goals and objectives of the older client.
Elder law is generally approached from a holistic perspective and the elder law attorney will generally counsel his or her clients on issues related to maintaining control of assets during lifetime, disability planning, and estate planning (after death). Areas of concern will also include asset protection to meet long-term care needs, home care, assisted living and possible nursing home care.
Why is Elder Law Important?
Elder law is not a new area of law, there’s just been a greater focus on it. Our changing demographics and aging trends are primarily responsible. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Inc. (NAELA) report that the current number of Baby Boomers in America is estimated to be 78.2 million. The first Baby Boomers turned 65 in 2011 and by the year 2020, the over-65 population is expected double.
When Should I Contact an Elder Law Attorney?
You should contact an elder law attorney anytime you have questions or concerns about the aging process and its legal interactions. You should absolutely contact an elder law attorney if you have never done any estate planning or if you have not updated your estate plan in the last three (3) to five (5) years. Many individuals wait until it’s too late to do planning—they are no longer competent—and unable to complete the planning process. An elder law estate planning process is essential to ensure you have the proper legal directives for disability planning. These include both financial and healthcare powers of attorney, living wills and preneed guardian declarations. You’ll also want to plan for what happens when you die—either with a will or a trust—and you’ll want to make sure your memorial/funeral instructions have been made known to your family.
If you have family members who are disabled or have special needs, an estate plan will be especially important for the protection of government benefits they may be receiving. If you are single and considering remarriage, a consultation with an elder law attorney may be in order to discuss the affect on your Social Security benefits, retirement plans and taxes. A pre-marital agreement may be necessary to protect family assets for children from a previous marriage.
Family members should contact an elder law attorney if they have concerns about a parent’s competency, want to discuss long-term care planning options including the protection of assets from the rising cost of nursing home care, or if they believe a family member or friend is taking advantage of a senior individual.
How do I find an Elder Law Attorney?
A Florida elder law attorney will be a member of the Florida Bar. They may also be Board Certified in Elder Law which means they’ve met a rigorous set of standards and taken an advanced course of study along with an examination. The elder law attorney will have a special interest in those issues which affect seniors and their families as the practice of elder law requires a broad understanding of a myriad of legal issues, social and medical concerns. An elder law attorney must also be familiar with both Federal and Florida laws which can affect a senior’s well-being and personal goals.
In our practice, both Peggy Hoyt and Randy Bryan are board certified in Elder Law, as well as in Wills, Trusts and Estates. Our law firm is the only Florida law firm with two attorneys who hold dual board certification in there two specialties.
You can locate an Elder Law attorney who has been Board Certified as an expert in Elder Law by contacting the Florida Bar or by visiting its website at www.flabar.org. Elder Law attorneys may also be found through organizations like AFELA (The Academy of Florida Elder Law Attorneys), NAELA (The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Inc.) and the Florida Bar’s Elder Law Section.