Elder law has developed as families face financial, health and care issues as we age. Traditional estate planning has focused on transferring wealth at death and minimizing estate taxes. Longer life expectancies, many with chronic illnesses, require us to revisit how we plan our estates and give more thought to planning our estates during our lifetime, and not just after death.
The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys describes Elder Law as a holistic approach to law. "Under this holistic approach, the elder law practitioner handles general estate planning issues and counsels clients about planning for incapacity with alternative decision making documents. The attorney would also assist the client in planning for possible long-term care needs, including nursing home care. Locating the appropriate type of care, coordinating private and public resources to finance the cost of care, and working to ensure the client's right to quality care are all part of the elder law practice."
Our health care system is structured to reflect a commitment to acute care, but not chronic care. Approximately 80% of Americans aged 65 and older have one chronic condition and two-thirds have two or more. By 2020, over 80% of all health care expenditures will be spent for people with chronic conditions; direct health care expenditures for chronic conditions will exceed $1 trillion. (Professionals with Personal Experience in Chronic Care) For example, Medicare will pay the large medical bill for heart by-pass surgery. However, if that same patient has a dementia related illness and needs constant supervision, Medicare will not pay the supervisory care needed in a nursing home or assisted living facility.
Elder Law includes the following:
Working to assure the client's right to quality care
Working to assure the client's expectations for care are met, considering the client's health needs, family abilities, and resources available.
Assisting the family is creating a format to care for the elderly family member.
Coordinating private and public resources to finance the cost of care
Planning in the event of incapacity
Obtaining substitute decision makers when a person is incapacitated
Planning for possible long-term care needs, including nursing home care
Assisting with applying for Medicaid, if appropriate.
Preparing Wills, Trusts, Durable Powers of Attorney and Patient Advocate Designations
Elder law strives to assure our quality of life continues while recognizing our physical, financial and family limitations.