I’m often asked, “What is an Elder Law Attorney?” and “What’s the difference between an Elder Law Attorney and an Estate Planning attorney?”
The quick Google answer is that is that elder law focuses on what happens to you while you’re living, and estate planning is about what happens after you die.
A will, for instance, is about what happens to your stuff after you die. I do those too. The more important document, I believe, is the Power of Attorney (POA), which deals with the issues that clients face as part of aging. For instance, a POA designates someone chosen by you, backed up by the power of the courts, to make financial and/or health care decisions for you should you become unable to do so. It’s a powerful tool that needs to be considered and drafted carefully, and it’s one that protects your physical and financial well-being. The ones I prepare for my clients include language that deals with issues that are faced by elders but are often otherwise overlooked. For instance, I address eligibility for Medicaid, should that become necessary. I also include instructions to the person you designate in your POA (called an Attorney in Fact) to not enter into a Pre-Dispute Binding Arbitration agreement, which is often part of care facility contracts and takes away your right to a jury trial in the unlikely event that there is a conflict.
Sometimes banks refuse to deal with a legally designated representative, the Attorney in Fact, named in the POA. Banks are right in the middle of the elder financial abuse epidemic, so I understand their concern, and I can usually fix the problem with a phone call or two to their legal department.
In short, the Power of Attorney protects you while you are alive.
Guardianships. You don’t want guardianship. I’m familiar with guardianship law, while most estate planning attorneys are not, and that knowledge of what constitutes a guardianship, who needs one, what happens during one and how to avoid one informs the overall legal steps I take in creating your estate plan.
I can also help you make and enforce health care decisions should you get to the point where you can’t make them on your own. For instance, many of my clients don’t want their lives prolonged by artificial, often intrusive, means. I can help ensure that your last days are dignified and abide by your wishes.
Long-term care insurance is an important tool in helping you afford the cost of care as you age. However, some long-term care insurance companies have been denying coverage based on their misreading of the law. (I’m being diplomatic here.) I can often correct their misunderstanding and get the benefits promised in the policy.
I’ve also done my share of vulnerable adult protection, including the sleepless nights that go along with that. Again, that experience informs my practice. For instance, I’ve been able to use vulnerable adult protection laws to save the houses of seniors that otherwise would have been taken.
On a personal note, I truly enjoy working with my elder clients, and I’m gratified to be able to make their lives and the lives of their families safer and easier.
You can learn more about Sanders Elder Law here.
— By Attorney Peggy Sanders and Ralph Sanders