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The term "elderlaw" is a relatively new one. Over the past decade, the legal profession has begun to recognize a cluster of specialized legal areas as being particularly important to older persons. Elderlaw encompasses traditional areas of legal practice such as estate planning and probate, as well as public benefits such as Medicare and Social Security, and issues such as planning for long-term care placement and health-care decisionmaking. Some attorneys have begun to identify themselves as elderlaw specialists. Most of these attorneys do not specialize in all of the areas covered by the broad term elderlaw (described below) and therefore you should ask which areas a particular attorney handles. Many of the attorneys who specialize in the elderlaw area are also familiar with the networks of other professionals (such as ombudsmen, social workers, geriatric care managers, or other elder care professionals) who can provide related services to older persons. They may also be trained in the mental and physical effects of the normal aging process.

The broad range of legal areas covered by "elderlaw" includes:

Estate planning including the management of an estate during the person's lifetime and planning how the estate will be divided upon the person's death through wills, trusts, asset transfers, tax planning, and other methods.

Long-term care planning including nursing home issues such as quality of care, admissions contracts, prevention of spousal impoverishment, and resident's rights. It also includes life care or retirement community issues such as evaluating the proposed plan/contract.

Retirement issues including Social Security (retirement and disability and survivors' benefits) and other public pensions (veterans, civil service) and benefits as well as private pension benefits.

Health care issues including Medicare, Medicaid, Medigap insurance, and long-term care insurance.

Housing issues including home equity conversion and age discrimination.

Planning for possible incapacity through choosing in advance how health care and financial decisions will be made if you are unable to do so (methods include durable powers of attorney, health-care powers of attorney, living wills, and other means of delegating the decisionmaking). The attorney may also be able to advise on conservatorship and guardianship proceedings in the event that the elder has not planned for incapacity.

Age discrimination issues including bringing cases under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
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Excerpted from An Older Person's Guide to Finding Legal Help
from Legal Counsel for the Elderly
601 E Street, NW Washington, DC 20049

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