What is Elder Law?

By Barbara Boone McGinnis, Attorney

What is elder law?

Elder law is a practice area devoted to the needs of a particular type of client as opposed to a particular area of law. Elder law attorneys must be knowledgeable in many areas of the law including conservatorships, long-term care planning, advance health care directives, powers of attorney, estate planning, probate and trust administration, asset protection, special needs trusts and planning, and elder abuse. We prefer to deal holistically with clients in every aspect of planning, including health care, long-term care, financial viability, family dynamics, healthcare and long-term care decisions, personal values, and personal preferences. 

Why might I need an elder law attorney?

If you or a loved one are concerned about the cost of long-term care and how you will pay for it, that's when it's a good idea to contact an elder law attorney. The elder law attorney will be able to explain to the various methods of paying for long-term care, including the government benefit programs that are available as well as how to qualify for them. Elder law attorneys can also help if you are confused about where to receive care or you're concerned about the quality of care a loved one is receiving. There are many more situations where an elder law attorney can be helpful.

How do I find an elder law attorney?

Elder law is one of the fastest growing areas of law. These days it seems as if almost every general practice law firm has an elder law attorney on staff. Finding an elder law attorney may not be difficult, but finding one with the right experience and dedication to the specialty can be more of a challenge. It's vital to find an elder law attorney with experience in order to get the representation you need. The American Bar Association has approved the National Elder Law Foundation as the only organization in the United States certifying elder law attorneys. While certification does not guarantee better quality of service, it is a factor worth taking into consideration when selecting an attorney who can best meet your needs.   

When should I engage in elder law planning?  

The sooner the better. Since none of us has a crystal ball, we never know when serious illness or disability may occur in our lives. While many of us associate nursing homes with the elderly, a significant number of nursing home residents are middle-aged and even younger. It's important to know that the government has imposed stringent rules penalizing transfers of assets made by people prior to entering a nursing home. You may be disqualified from receiving TennCare/CHOICES if you have made asset transfers during the five year lookback period prior to applying for Medicaid.  An elder law attorney can explain the TennCare/CHOICES lookback and penalty period rules to ensure that inappropriate, disqualifying transfers are not made. In addition to plan to minimize worries associated with asset protection, it's important to plan for incapacity in general and to decide how decisions related to property and health will be made in the event you become incapacitated. 

For more information about elder law or to discuss your situation with a qualified elder law attorney, call 615.824.2571. 

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