How can we protect our loved ones as they age? It’s a common question with an endless amount of answers. As our loved one’s age, families and caregivers can often find themselves in the midst of the legal complexities of elder law.
What is elder law, and how can it help us when caring for an elderly loved one? Preparation, good communication and the help of an attorney familiar with elder law can all help to make some of the issues families encounter when trying to help a loved one a lot easier.
To help us become more familiar with elder law, Claire Crowley, a founding attorney at Her Law Boston, was kind enough to answer some frequently asked questions about elder law.
What are the most common issues that an elder law attorney could assist with?
Elder law attorneys assist clients on a wide variety of issues. Most commonly, elder law attorneys help with nursing home planning, Medicaid planning, estate and tax planning and probate and trust administration. Some elder law attorneys also assist in cases of elder abuse in the event that an elder has been taken advantage of financially or has been the victim of physical abuse or undue influence.
What are the documents that every elder should have in order?
At a minimum, every individual should have an estate plan, a health care proxy and a power of attorney. While the estate planning documents that an individual needs will vary depending on their goals, the types of assets that they own, their marital status and the overall size of their estate, a basic will is a good place to start. A will allows an individual to specify his or her wishes as to what should happen to their tangible and intangible assets after they pass away.
A health care proxy allows you to name an individual or individuals, typically a family member, to make medical decisions on your behalf, if you are unable to make these decisions on your own. A power of attorney is similar to a health care proxy, but focuses instead on finances and who can make financial decisions on your behalf.
In addition, beneficiary designation documents are necessary for naming the beneficiaries of your retirement and life insurance plans.
What steps can be taken to protect an elder or loved one’s assets?
Wills and trusts are commonly used to protect assets. If an individual dies without a will, state law will govern how assets are distributed. Unlike wills, trusts can be used to avoid probate, which can sometimes be costly and time consuming. Trusts can also be useful for tax savings and Medicaid planning. There are many different types of wills and trusts and it’s important to speak to your attorney to determine the proper estate plan for your needs and goals.
How often should documents be reviewed?
Wills, trusts, health care proxies and powers of attorney should be reviewed by your attorney at least annually to ensure that they are up to date and accurately reflect your wishes. These documents should also be reviewed and modified when there is a change in life circumstances.
What are the legal steps that children should/need to take when an elderly parent appears to need additional help with daily living tasks (meals, bill paying etc.)
Communication is key. When an elderly parent requires additional help with daily tasks, children should have an honest conversation with their parent to determine whether or not the parent has a health care proxy and a power of attorney, which would allow a child, if named as an agent, to make health care and financial decisions on behalf of their parent. It might also be time to explore hiring a caregiver or transferring the parent to a nursing home or independent living facility.
What rights do family members have to attend doctor’s visits or be informed about an elderly parent’s health and medication needs?
A doctor will usually ask that the elderly parent sign a consent form which would allow the parent’s medical team to keep children informed of their parent’s health and medication needs. Without a signed consent form, a doctor would not be able to share a patient’s medical information.
Claire Crowley is a Boston-based attorney. She is the founding attorney of Her Law Boston, a law practice that caters specifically to the legal needs of women. You can visit her website at www.herlawboston.com. You can contact Claire at firstname.lastname@example.org.