By 2040, the United States will be home to over 80 million people over the age of 65. Although many of these individuals are more than capable of caring for themselves and seeing to their legal needs, many others aren’t. Unfortunately, as you might expect, there’s no shortage of people looking to take advantage, from seemingly well-meaning family members to opportunistic and predatory acquaintances.
This is precisely why elder law exists. A wide-ranging discipline born out of the 1965 Older Americans Act, elder law is intended to protect the physical, financial, psychological, and emotional well-being of the country’s older—and frequently vulnerable—population. The areas covered under elder law include:
- Estate planning. This may include establishing a trust, planning your life insurance, 401ks, etc.
- Benefits. Includes Medicare and Medicaid.
- Employment discrimination. If you believe that you or a loved one has been discriminated against based on age in an employment context.
- Elder abuse. Elderly individuals are often quite vulnerable and hence make perfect targets for abuse and fraud—not just from third parties, but from their loved ones. Elder care attorneys don’t only identify cases of elder abuse, they know the necessary channels to enforce legal consequences and recoup losses.
- Elder visitation rights. Just as there are complex laws governing parental visitation in the event of a divorce, there are also grandparental visitation rights.
What Are Elder Care Attorneys?
An elder care attorney specializes in elder law, providing counsel to older Americans and their families. Technically, any attorney can practice elder law—they require a working knowledge of the American legal system to hold a law degree. With that said, there are certain nuances and precedents that are only clear with expertise.
As you’ve probably guessed, elder law also intersects with other legal disciplines. It may therefore be in your best interests to search for a firm based on your specific needs, then narrow your search down to firms that also practice elder law. Let’s say, for instance, your parent suffers from dementia, and you suspect a sibling may be trying to change their will.
Your immediate instinct may be to seek a firm specializing in elder abuse. And while that’s certainly not an unreasonable course of action, you might also consider looking for a firm focused on estate law or family law. It’s ultimately a matter of using your best judgment.
The phrases ‘elder care attorney’ and ‘elder law attorney’ are often used interchangeably.
Why Would I Need an Elder Care Attorney?
Given the broad circumstances in which elder law can be applied, there are many reasons why one might choose to hire an elder care attorney:
- Understanding and exploring one’s options for long-term care.
- Ensuring proper power of attorney is in place in the event that the elder experiences some form of dementia.
- Identifying eligibility and applying for benefits programs such as Veterans Aid and Attendance.
- Putting safeguards in place to prevent financial exploitation and abuse.
- Estate planning, including managing a will and setting up a living trust.
- You need ongoing representation for a legal issue that directly pertains to elder law.
It’s also worth noting that the laws governing elder care tend to be quite complex and vary at both the state and federal levels. It’s a complex landscape, even for one with the necessary legal expertise. Navigating it without that educational background can be downright overwhelming.
How Much Do Elder Care Attorneys Charge?
The price charged by an elder care attorney depends on several factors, including where you’re located, the specific services you require, and the complexity of your case. With that said, elder care attorneys typically charge an hourly rate ranging from $100-$650. In some scenarios, elder care attorneys may instead choose to collect a single lump sum fee.
Some elder care attorneys offer free consultations, but not every firm does.
Are Elder Care Attorney Fees Deductible?
Although it depends on the service provided by the attorney, generally, no. The one exception is estate planning which involves income-generating assets such as investment properties. Legal fees, in this case, may be listed under miscellaneous deductions.
We strongly recommend speaking to an accountant or tax professional before you attempt to deduct attorney’s fees from your taxes, no matter what service you’ve hired them to do.
What Questions Should I Ask My Elder Care Attorney When I Meet Them?
Not all law firms are created equal. It’s important that you choose carefully and deliberately when selecting your law firm—after all, this is your future we’re talking about. As such, when assessing a prospective elder care attorney, ask the following questions about the firm itself:
- How long have you been practicing elder law? While it’s certainly possible to find a new attorney with the necessary skills and expertise to manage your case, it’s usually best to look for one with experience.
- What are your firm’s specialties? Alongside elder law, what are the firm’s other areas of practice? Pay close attention to firms that seem to have too broad a focus—a corporate tax attorney isn’t necessarily going to be skilled at practicing elder law.
- How much of your practice is dedicated to elder law? Relative to the above, how much time and effort does the attorney devote to practicing elder law? A certified elder law attorney is typically required to spend at least 16 hours per week on the discipline.
- Do you charge a consultation fee? Self-explanatory. Most firms will tell you upfront whether or not there’s a fee for consultations, but it’s usually worth asking regardless.
- What are your rates? Some attorneys may charge an hourly rate, while others charge a flat fee.
We also recommend asking them the following questions pertaining to your case once you’ve reached the consultation stage:
- How long do you expect it will take to resolve my case?
- What do you feel are the best courses of action for my case?
- What do you feel are the best possible outcomes of my case?
- What other outcomes are possible?
- How many attorneys will be assigned to my case?
- Has your firm dealt with any cases like mine in the past?
- Can you provide me with an estimated cost and payment schedule?
Don’t Leave Things Up to Chance
When it comes to elder law and care, we believe it’s almost always best to err on the side of caution. If you suspect that you or a loved one may need access to legal expertise either now or in the immediate future, it will be well worth your time to schedule a consultation with a reputable firm. After all, you don’t want to scramble for an attorney when you’re already staring down a legal quagmire.
It’s better to have the necessary frameworks, contracts, and agreements in place well in advance of when you’ll actually need them.