Older Adult Law Overview
Older adult law is an often overlooked but critically important area of legal practice. As you grow older, the laws that protect you also change along with your evolving needs. This area of law is essential to older adults whose health or circumstances might prevent them from defending themselves or managing their affairs.
Some older adult law topics are based on federal law, but issues affecting older people can vary by state. This page provides an overview of older adult law topics and issues. Speak with a local older adult law attorney from a dedicated law firm to address your specific needs.
Older Adult Law Issues
Older adult law is not governed by its own independent body of laws. Instead, it is a broad topic encompassing several diverse legal issues. These topics can vary, touching on the evolving and special needs of older adults. Such topics include:
- Healthcare decisions and long-term care planning
- Retirement benefits, disability, and social security
- Estate planning
- Medicaid planning
- Medicare fraud
- Financial planning
- Financial abuse
- Nursing home abuse
- Age-based discrimination
Older adults will want to consider these legal issues as they plan their affairs and hopefully settle into a comfortable and restful retirement lifestyle. Coming up with a plan, often with the help of an attorney, can prevent potential speed bumps down the road.
Health Care Decisions and Long-Term Care Planning
Medical decisions are often top of mind for older adults. Just thinking about healthcare treatment can cause stress, but there are tools like healthcare directives that can make life easier should an unfortunate health event occur.
Advance Care Planning
The National Institute on Aging refers to advance care planning as “an important step toward making sure you get the medical care you would want, if you are unable to speak for yourself and doctors and family members are making the decisions for you.”
You can perform advance care planning at any stage of adult life. It is often as simple as filling out a healthcare directive, sometimes called a living will. A living will informs doctors of your medical decisions if you are incapable of speaking for yourself.
Long-Term Care Planning
Nursing home planning is an area within older adult care that can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. Your attorney can help you figure out how to handle your assets now if Medicaid or Medicare isn’t enough to cover the costs of nursing home care or other types of long-term care facilities and methods.
Learning about long-term care insurance — and deciding if you need it — might also require guidance from an experienced older adult law lawyer.
Estate planning includes a variety of legal decisions concerning preparations for death and end-of-life care. Instruments used to fulfill your wishes may consist of:
- Making advance directives
- Creating a will
- Setting up trusts
- Living wills
- Appointing a health care power of attorney
- Selecting a financial power of attorney
Some seniors may create a will to distribute their property to their heirs after they die. They can also choose to place assets into a trust. Estate planning lawyers can help senior citizens draft these documents according to each state’s laws.
Creating a will can help your loved ones avoid the pain and frustration of probate. Asset structures have unique tax and reporting obligations. Many of these rules don’t come into effect until the assets are transferred upon an older adult’s death.
An older adult law attorney also can help you properly arrange your assets now to make the process easier for heirs and beneficiaries when the time comes.
Financial Decision Making
Ailing individuals may designate someone to handle their financial matters with a durable power of attorney. This party, called an agent or attorney-in-fact, will then pay bills, taxes, and medical expenses and perform other fiscal management tasks on their behalf.
Older adults can also designate someone to make health decisions for them by drafting advance care directives, or living wills, that detail their medical treatment wishes.
Affordable D.I.Y. Estate Planning
Older adults transitioning into retirement often use that shift as an opportunity to assess their financial affairs. Low-cost do-it-yourself (D.I.Y.) estate planning is possible in some simple cases and can be found on our companion site, FindLaw.com. Consult an estate planning attorney in your area for advice on your circumstances.
Retirement Benefits, Social Security, and Disability
Retirement benefits are another area where older adults often seek legal guidance. As people age, it might become necessary to apply for government benefits. Social Security benefits, disability benefits, veterans’ aid, and similar programs might have lengthy applications. An older adult law lawyer specializing in these benefits can help older people work through the process as effectively as possible.
Senior citizens also may need help with retirement planning. Knowing how to handle retirement accounts, pensions, and similar retirement benefits is another area in which an older adult law attorney can help.
Seniors relying on Medicare for medical care may also be at an increased risk of fraud. For instance, a provider could charge Medicare for services or equipment a patient never used or needed. Individuals committing insurance fraud may also misuse a patient’s Medicare benefits or try to trick seniors into joining Medicare plans.
Some forms of older adult abuse involve scams, fraud, and financial exploitation.
These issues cause almost $3 billion in losses per year, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse. Most of these incidents occur in the home, but they also happen in facilities like nursing homes.
Perpetrators of financial abuse aren’t always strangers. Caregivers or family members may target senior citizens for their money, property, or decision-making power.
Nursing Home Abuse
Nursing homes may often be run well, but some are not. When abuse occurs, it can be hard to know what to do or how to prove it. Older adult abuse takes many forms, including:
- Physical abuse
- Psychological abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Verbal abuse
Care providers, such as nurses in assisted living facilities, might deny seniors their medication or forget to check on them often to prevent injury.
Nursing home staff members who do not intervene in abusive acts perpetrated by nursing home residents may also be partially liable for the abuse or neglect.
In addition to reducing senior citizens’ quality of life, older adult abuse can increase care costs. Families may have to pay for additional treatment or incidental expenses associated with relocating their relatives to safer domiciles. Civil lawsuits can be one means of recovering these costs.
With the complexities of federal and state laws, having an attorney well-versed in age-related discrimination can be helpful. When the issue isn’t with an employer, an older adult law attorney will likely be the most beneficial.
Any older person with legal issues related to an area of practice within the older adult law area should find an attorney who is knowledgeable and experienced with these specific issues. After all, a person who needs to get a divorce probably wouldn’t call a personal injury lawyer, so a person with an older adult law need should stick to an older adult law attorney.
How an Attorney Can Help
Because older adult legal matters cover such a wide array of special needs, families may have difficulty covering everything on their own. An attorney’s advocacy is often a helpful asset. Your older adult law attorney can assist in making decisions, filing claims, drafting estate planning documents, and even serving as an attorney-in-fact under a power of attorney.
Additional Elder Law Articles
- The Rights of Nursing Home Patients
- How To Help Your Parents Obtain Medical Care
- When Should I Apply for Retirement Benefits?
- How To Care for an Aging Parent
- Marriage, Divorce, and Social Security Survivor Benefits: FAQ
- Retirement Benefits Overview
- How Trusts Protect Your Adult Children
- What Is the Difference Between Medicare and Medicaid?
- Social Security Overview
- Why Everyone Should Have an Estate Plan
- Social Security Benefits for Surviving Spouses
- Social Security Benefits Through Ex-Spouses
- The Top Ten Legal Steps To Take Before You Die