What Is Elder Law?

Elder law is an area of law that encompasses any legal issue facing the elderly.  It is often associated with estate planning but can involve much broader social, economic and health related difficulties facing aging Americans. Some of the concerns that become more important to us as we grow older and may require more careful planning include:

  • estate planning
  • planning for a long term medical care requirement including Medicaid planning
  • planning for incapacitation with the use of durable powers of attorney and health care proxies
  • issues requiring guardianships and conservatorships
  • elder abuse and other issues involving nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities
  • SSI, SSDI and other government benefit programs
  • special needs trusts

As the elderly population grows each year, so will the issues facing these individuals requiring a comprehensive estate plan that addresses long term care needs.  Often times, planning  must take into account strategies involving financial planning, estate planning, and other asset protection techniques.  Other times ancillary issues involving home health care, skilled nursing facilities, long term care insurance and disability benefits must be addressed.  Elder law attorneys, geriatric or nurse case managers, financial planners and professional well versed in benefits planning are often involved to ensure all needs are met.  Advanced planning can help to minimize the problems and stress associated with these issues.

The Difference Between A Health Care Proxy and Living Will

Health Care Proxies and living wills in Massachusetts both address situations in which medical decisions are made on your behalf when you cannot communicate your wishes for yourself. A Health Care Proxy allows you to designate someone (called your Agent) to make decisions on your behalf should you be unable to do so whereas a living will allows you to list certain treatments you want or do not want to be withheld should you become terminally ill and unable to communicate at that stage. Although Massachusetts does not recognize living wills at this time, this document can be a useful in guiding your Agent during a very emotional time.

As with any estate planning you undertake, it is recommended that you discuss your intentions with your Agent so they understand and are able to follow your wishes regarding medical treatment and accept the appointment. If your Agent understands what your wishes are and how you would have made decisions if you were able, the process will be much more effective and less stressful.