What Is Elder Law?

People often ask "What is elder law?" or "How can an elder law attorney help me?" As the name implies, "elder law" deals with a wide range of legal issues faced by seniors and their families. It is a holistic approach to the practice of law, akin to trusts and estates, but with a difference.

Where the traditional trusts and estates attorney focuses on plans to reduce taxes and transfer of assets upon their client's death, the elder law attorney asks the additional questions, "What happens if the client becomes ill or begins suffering from diminished capacity?" "Who will handle their affairs and make healthcare decisions?" "What if the client needs long-term care?" and "What can be done to insure some of the estate will be left to pass on in the event the client needs to go to the nursing home?"

Contrary to what many people believe, elder law is not just about nursing homes and Medicaid. It is defined by the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Specialization as including the following practice areas of the law:

  • Health and personal care planning (advance directives, powers of attorney, personal care agreements)
  • Pre-mortem planning (wills, trusts, powers of attorney, probate avoidance techniques, etc.)
  • Fiduciary representation (executors, trustees, attorneys-in-fact, etc.)
  • Legal capacity issues (guardianships and conservatorships)
  • Public benefit counseling and eligibility (Medicaid, SSI, VA, etc.)
  • Special needs counseling (special and supplemental needs trusts, housing, employment, etc.
  • Insurance advice (life, disability, long-term care, medigap, etc.)
  • Housing issues (HUD, assistance with independent living, nursing home and residency rights, reverse mortgages and home equity conversion, etc.)
  • Taxes (income, estate and gift)
  • Litigation and advocacy (contested guardianships, elder abuse, nursing home torts, will and trust contests)