Where the month of May celebrates mothers and the Kentucky Derby, it has also been designated as National Elder Law month.
This designation was coined by the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), a professional association of attorneys dedicated to improving the quality of legal services provided to older Americans and individuals with special needs.
During the month of May, Elder Law attorneys across the country educate the public about legal options in dealing with long-term and health-care planning, special-needs planning, Medicaid eligibility, elder abuse, fraud and other important issues.
Statistically, with baby boomers turning into seniors, the aging population is exploding. And so are the health, financial and legal needs. Currently, 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, touted as the costliest diseases to manage.
However, in a recent study, only 16 percent of more than 1,000 seniors felt “very confident” they could afford long-term care. Along with the growth in the senior population comes a need to proactively plan for retirement and long-term health needs.
Many people equate Elder Law with drafting wills and trusts. Elder Law and Special Needs Law are unique areas of law that involve representing, counseling and assisting seniors, disabled individuals and their families in connection with a variety of legal issues. These legal issues range from estate planning to long-term care issues, with a primary emphasis on promoting the highest quality of life for the individual.
Elder Law attorneys work with seniors and their families in the following areas:
- Asset protection
- Long-term care planning
- Estate planning
- Medicaid counseling, advocacy and representation
- Eligibility for Medicare, Social Security and veterans’ benefits
- Guardianships and incompetency, including Durable Powers of Attorney
- Health-care needs planning, including Medical Advance Directives
- Elder abuse recognition and prevention
- Placement in and advocacy with facilities
Because these areas tend to overlap, an Elder Law attorney who is conversant in all of these areas can provide the most effective legal advice. Elder Law attorneys are uniquely positioned to help navigate the complex web of rules and regulations for long-term care and health benefits. Elder Law attorneys work with financial advisers, physicians, facilities, seniors and families to ensure seniors receive the best quality of life possible.
In addition to helping seniors and disabled individuals, Elder Law attorneys promote planning across all ages of life. While the need for pre-planning seems less relevant to younger people, those individuals in the “Sandwich Generation” understand the importance of planning ahead.
The Sandwich Generation is comprised of individuals who are caring for children while also caring for aging parents. These caregivers in the Sandwich Generation stand to benefit significantly when their parents have proactively planned for long-term elder needs.
All too often, Americans wait to tackle these issues in times of crisis, rather than pre-planning. By planning ahead, seniors and people with special needs can obtain the best quality of life, while preserving family assets for as long as possible.
While celebrating Elder Law month may not be as fun as celebrating Cinco de Mayo or National Strawberry Month (both also in May), taking a few minutes to think about Elder Law and what it could mean to a senior or a loved one could have significant benefits.
Kara Gansmann is an attorney in the Wilmington office of Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog LLP, where her practice encompasses elder law and estate planning. Kara advises individuals and families with estate planning needs and asset protection tactics. In this role, she strategizes with clients to preserve assets for long-term care and to leave legacy gifts to family members. Kara works with elderly clients in need of Medicaid crisis planning and Medicaid applications. As part of her practice, Kara drafts wills, trusts and powers of attorney. In the courtroom, Kara represents clients in the administration of estates, guardianship/incompetency proceedings, and guardianship administration. Kara also litigates estate and trust matters, including will caveats, the modification or termination of trusts, and litigation arising from estate documents or fiduciary roles. She is a member of the North Carolina Bar Association Elder Law and Special Needs Section and serves as co-chair of the CLE Committee for that section. Kara also serves as a liaison between the North Carolina Bar Association Elder Law and Special Needs Section and the North Carolina Bar Association Estate Planning and Fiduciary Law Section.