We're often asked, “What is an elder law attorney?” or “What is elder law?” If you don’t know, don’t feel bad. If you do know, you should get points in a game of Trivial Pursuit. Elder law is not a single substantive area of the law such as contracts or property law. Rather, elder law draws from numerous substantive areas of the law with the goal in mind of helping those in the 65 and over age group.
When it comes to the legal issues facing those that are 65 or older, many rely on information they get from friends, neighbors, family members, the internet or even attorneys without elder law training. Many, if not most of these people, are well-intentioned and mean to help. However, if they don’t have years of training and experience, if their profession is not providing families the latest information on Medicaid, estate planning, or Veterans Benefits, or if, in fact, they have never applied for a Medicaid or VA benefit, I strongly suggest great caution in taking their advice.
An elder law attorney is first and foremost an attorney. An attorney needs an undergraduate degree (four years of school) and a law degree (another three years). And, while law school is quite general in the classes offered, an elder law attorney must be educated in areas of estate planning, income tax issues, gift and estate tax planning, probate, guardianship and conservatorship, revocable and irrevocable trust planning, incapacity planning, asset protection planning, elder abuse and fraud, housing, Social Security and retirement planning.
While each attorney is usually not an expert in each of the fields mentioned, to provide ongoing advice to retired and/or senior adults requires understanding how these areas of law interact and how planning in one area affects the rights of a client in another area. It’s rarely as simple as it seems. So, in addition to the undergraduate degree and the law degree, an elder law attorney has also completed hundreds of hours of additional and ongoing training. In addition to training, an elder law attorney has usually handled many dozens of cases in several of the areas of law mentioned above.
The difference between getting advice from an attorney with a generalized practice and getting advice from a trained elder law attorney becomes readily apparent on a regular basis in our office. We visit with individuals or couples who got help with their estate from an estate planning attorney or attorney with a generalized practice only a few weeks or few months before coming to us. The previous attorney prepared a specific estate plan for them. But, one issue was not addressed. The prospective client asks us about procuring resources to help pay for long-term care, something we’re trained to help them do.
It is unfortunate that they didn’t talk to an elder law attorney first. In most of these cases, the legal work they just completed (and paid for) is not helpful in obtaining long-term care help, whether that is obtaining Medicaid benefits or the VA Aid & Attendance benefit. Usually, we’re stuck ignoring the work that was just done because it was not designed to obtain these benefits.
Our team at Idaho Estate Planning has decades of experience in the areas that make up elder law. We have helped over 3,000 families plan and/or administer their estates. We have helped wartime vets in the Treasure Valley receive over $3 million in VA benefits. We have spent countless hours in presentations educating financial, legal, and insurance professionals as well people like you concerning estate planning and elder law.
A passionate advocate for education in this area, Mark recently published Get Real: Planning for Life, Death, and Disability. He also hosts Senior Matters Radio that airs every Saturday at 12:30 pm on KBOI 670 AM.
Do you have questions about elder law? Are you over the age of 65 and need help with something related to long-term care or the VA benefit? Contact our office today, we'd love to schedule a time to meet you.