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Families often don’t consider the implications of important tasks like estate planning until a family member is facing cognitive decline, a debilitating illness, or the prospect of long-term care, according to the National Institute on Aging (part of the National Institutes of Health or NIH). Unfortunately, when you’re facing a health crisis, it can be more difficult to effectively protect your assets and let others make proactive health-care and end-of-life decisions if you haven’t done some advance planning.
An eldercare attorney (sometimes called an elder law attorney) may be able to help with estate planning to safeguard your assets. The lawyer may also be able to help you with other important services, such as setting up a health-care proxy or a durable power of attorney document.
Note that laws about estate planning and other matters mentioned below vary from one state to another.
How can an estate planning attorney or an eldercare attorney help me?
Many of us may not want to think about aging, illness, and end-of-life issues, but planning for these events is key to peace of mind for you and your family. According to FindLaw*, here are some things an attorney can help with:
- Wills and estate planning. This includes items such as arranging revocable living trusts to estate and gift tax planning, and overseeing any probate process.
- Financial matters and representation. An estate planning attorney may be able to help preserve family assets and help you explore and understand your options for paying for nursing home care. If you need to select a legal guardian or establish financial power of attorney, your estate planning lawyer may be able to help you set that up.
- Government benefits and programs. Some estate planning attorneys specialize in navigating government benefits and programs such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and veterans’ benefits. They might also have experience in state laws and regulations regarding the Medicaid program.
- Health-care planning. This is a different type of planning, but still one that you may want to address. An elder law attorney may be able to draft a durable power of attorney, living will, advance directives, and other documents to ensure your wishes are carried out if you are physically or cognitively incapacitated. He or she might also help you evaluate your living options (such as aging at home, assisted living, and long-term care) from a financial point of view.
How do I find an estate planning attorney?
You can find an estate planning attorney in a number of ways:
- Get a personal recommendation from friend, family member, or attorney who handles other matters for you, suggests according to FindLaw.
- Go to the National Legal Resource Center’s website and search based on the state you live in.
- Contact your state bar association or an attorney referral service.
If you are planning for senior care issues specifically, you may also wish to look for an estate planning attorney who specializes in elder law. These lawyers not only handle estate planning — they may be able to help with other legal documents to make sure your wishes are fulfilled, according to FindLaw.
What should I ask an estate planning attorney?
Before you schedule your first appointment with an estate planning attorney, FindLaw suggests that you ask the following questions:
- How long have you been practicing?
- What is your experience in elder law? What percentage of your time is devoted to issues like mine?
- How will I be charged?
- Is there anything I should do to prepare for our appointment?
You should feel comfortable with your estate planning attorney. Does he or she speak clearly, explaining any terminology you don’t understand? Does he or she seem patient, sensitive to your needs, and willing to listen to your concerns? Are you satisfied with the rates you’ll be charged? Don’t commit to an attorney unless you are satisfied that he or she will represent you or your loved one in a competent and understanding manner.
Note: This article is for general information only, and is not legal advice. You should consult with your own legal counsel to make sure any actions or legal documents fit your particular situation and jurisdiction.
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*FindLaw, which is part of Thomson Reuters, hosts a website that provides “online legal information and services for lawyers, businesses, and individuals.”
This article is for general information only and may not apply to your circumstances. This article should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always consult with your medical provider regarding diagnosis or treatment for a health condition, including decisions about the correct medication for your condition, as well as prior to undertaking any specific exercise or dietary routine.