Over the last 25 years, elder law has evolved into its own specialty area of practice focused on the complex and unique issues of older people and the disabled. Attorneys who focus on elder law often advocate for the needs of clients with diminished capacity and with their family members and others tasked with acting in a fiduciary role.
Many organizations serve the needs of elder law attorneys throughout the United States including the NAELA and the NELF. The state bar or state bar association in many states have organized and maintain committees or sections for elder law attorneys.
Types of Issues in Elder Law Cases
Many elder law cases involve advocating for elderly or disabled people with diminished capacity and involve family members and other people with a fiduciary duty to that person. Elder law issues include:
- home care and nursing home problem solving;
- drafting of special needs and other trusts;
- retiree health and income benefits;
- retirement housing;
- planning for incapacity and long-term care;
- Medicaid and Medicare coverage (including coverage of home care or a nursing home);
- health care decision-making;
- health and long-term care insurance;
- the selection of long-term care providers; and
- fiduciary services.
The elderly are affecting by every law in the same way every person is affected by the law. However, there are certain legal issues that either affect senior disproportionately. Some of those include:
- Health Law: The elderly are more likely to have significant health issues and spend more time in hospital and care settings. Many older people live permanently in nursing homes, where they have full-time health care. This makes them closer to the many issues that pertain to health law. Insurance issues, issues pertaining to public benefits like Medicare and planning how to pay for care are all issues the elderly frequently face.
- Guardianship and Capacity: As people grow older, their bodies are usually less capable to move around. The elderly are more susceptible to dementia, and Altzheimer's Disease may have a debilitating effect on a senior citizen's ability to function. Seniors also sometimes have difficulty keeping up with the rapid growth of technology and an evolving society. Therefore, issues like power of attorney and fiduciary responsibility are often important to seniors.
- Estate Planning: Seniors are more conscious of end-of-life issues, and are often concerned about what will happen to their assets upon death. Writing a last will and testament, trust management and other probate-related issues are important.
- Resident Rights: The elderly frequently live in group homes and other settings. Unfortunately, they can be subject to abuse and neglect. Elder law attorneys may help them hold the homes accountable.
Board Certified Attorneys in Elder Law
The National Elder Law Foundation is accredited by the American Bar Association in 1994 to certify lawyers as Certified Elder Law Attorneys (CELA). CELAs must meet stringent requirements to earn the designation, including showing at least 16 hours per week dedicated to elder law and at least 60 elder law matters in the three years prior to certification.
Attorneys must also attend at least 45 hours of continuing legal education on elder law matters. They must also submit references and pass a written exam, among other requirements. Once certified, CELAs must continue to meet certain education requirements. Today, more than 350 attorneys have earned the CELA designation. In forty-one states, Elder Law is recognized as its own specialty are of the law.
Find a Certified Elder Law Attorney.
National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys
Founded in 1987, the The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) has more than 5,000 members practicing across the United States. NAELA provides its members with quality CLE seminars, educational materials, publications and networking opportunities. This national non-profit organization helped create the National Elder Law Foundation. The organization works closely with many Chapters organized at the state level.
This article was last updated on May 1, 2016.