Do You or a Family Member Need to Hire an Elder Law Attorney?

Avoid costly mistakes by hiring an elder law attorney

A senior couple at home using a computer.
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Elder law issues can be complex. One wrong word or move can mean the difference between a good result and a terrible one. But even knowing that, you still might not think that you or a loved one really needs the services and assistance of an elder law attorney.

You might want to consider a few pivotal facts as you make your decision.

State Laws Rule Elder Law Matters

State laws are very specific about what can and cannot be included in a will, trust, advance medical directive, or financial power of attorney. They control who can and cannot serve as a personal representative, trustee, health care surrogate, or attorney in fact. They dictate who can and cannot be a witness to a will, trust, or medical or financial power of attorney.

These laws also determine what formalities must be followed when you're signing a will, trust, or medical or financial power of attorney.

And even though Medicaid is a federally authorized program, states are tasked with administering Medicaid at their local levels. The laws and rules governing Medicaid can vary greatly from state to state.

Working with a qualified elder law attorney can avoid simple and yet very costly mistakes if you or your loved one aren't intimately familiar with the specific laws in your state. What holds true in Florida is unlikely to be the law across the state line in Georgia. A simple assumption that doesn't turn out to be true can leave an estate plan in shambles.

Buyer Beware

That old Latin saying, “caveat emptor” or “buyer beware” certainly applies to elder law matters if you're thinking of handling things yourself with a little store-bought assistance.

You might think that you'll save a few dollars by filling out that Medicaid application yourself or using forms found on the internet, but your family could be in for a rude awakening when they learn that you won't qualify.

The same holds true for estate planning documents. If you attempt to create them yourself or with the help of some generic, one-size-fits-all software, part or all of your will, trust, or medical or financial power of attorney might not be legally valid or won't work as anticipated. Again, remember those state laws.

Your and your family could end up spending thousands of dollars more after the fact to fix unnecessary mistakes than what a qualified elder law attorney would have cost you in the first place.

It's Not Just About Dying

Elder law isn't necessarily the same thing as estate law. Your estate is what you leave to your loved ones when you die. But what if you should become mentally or physically incapable of taking care of yourself and your own personal business before then?

Numerous options are available to adjust to these circumstances as economically and efficiently as possible from powers of attorney to living trusts. A revocable living trust can be set up for someone else to take over management of your assets if a point in time comes when you can no longer do so yourself.

An elder law attorney can explain these options to you so you can have a plan in place for such an eventuality.

Sorting Out Complex Family and Financial Situations

Take a look at your life and your assets to see if you fit into one or more of the following categories. Check off as many as apply.

  • You're in a second (or later) marriage
  • You own one or more businesses
  • You own real estate in more than one state
  • You have a disabled family member
  • You have minor children
  • You have problem children
  • You don't have any children
  • You want to leave some or all of your estate to charity
  • You have substantial assets in 401(k)s and/or IRAs
  • You were recently divorced
  • You've recently lost a spouse or other family member
  • You have an incapacitated spouse in need of long-term care
  • You have a taxable estate for federal and/or state estate tax purposes

If one or more of these situations apply to you, you'll need the counseling and advice of an experienced elder law attorney to assist you with your elder law needs. Otherwise, your state or the Internal Revenue Service might receive the largest chunk of your assets.