Elder Law

What Does the Law Do to Protect Seniors?

As the people you love age, the laws that protect them also change. Elder law is an important resource for those whose health or circumstances might prevent them from defending themselves or managing their affairs. While it isn’t necessarily its own independent body of laws, elder law draws upon diverse legal issues, including:

  • Retirement benefits
  • Medicare fraud
  • Financial abuse
  • Nursing home abuse
  • Health care and assisted living
  • Wills, estates, trusts and inheritance

Abuse and Negligence

Elder abuse takes many forms, including physical, psychological, sexual and verbal harm. Care providers, such as nurses in assisted living facilities, might deny seniors their medication or forget to check on them often enough to prevent injury. Nursing home staff members who fail to intervene in abusive acts perpetrated by nursing home residents may also be partially liable for the abuse.

In addition to reducing senior citizens' quality of life, elder abuse can result in increased care costs. Families may have to pay for additional treatment or incidental expenses associated with relocating their relatives to safer domiciles. Civil lawsuits can be one means of recovering these costs.

Estate Planning

Some seniors choose to create a will to distribute their property to their heirs after they die. They can also choose to place assets into a trust. Generally, an estate planning lawyer will assist in drafting these documents according to each state’s laws.

Asset structures have unique tax and reporting obligations. Many of these rules don't come into effect until the assets are transferred upon an elder's death, but the way people arrange their estates into financial vehicles while they are alive can help make the process easier for heirs and beneficiaries later on.

Decision Making

Ailing individuals may designate someone to handle their financial matters for them with a durable financial power of attorney. This party, called an agent or attorney-in-fact, will then pay bills, taxes and medical expenses and perform other fiscal management tasks on their behalf. Elders can also designate someone to make health decisions for them by drafting advance care directives, or living wills, that detail their medical treatment wishes.

Financial Abuse

Some forms of elder abuse involve scams, fraud and financial exploitation. These issues cause almost $3 billion in losses per year, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse. Most of these incidents occur in the home, but they also occur in facilities like nursing homes. This form of abuse might also manifest as undue influence when people in positions of trust, such as caregivers or relatives, mislead elders into giving them money, property or decision making power.

Medicare Fraud

Seniors who rely upon Medicare for medical care may also be at an increased risk of fraud. For instance, a provider could charge Medicare for services or equipment a patient never used or needed. Individuals may also misuse a patient's Medicare benefits or try to trick seniors into joining Medicare plans.

How an Attorney Can Help

Because elder law covers such a wide array of elders’ needs, families may have a difficult time covering all of the bases on their own. An attorney is often a helpful asset and can assist in making decisions, filing claims, drafting estate planning documents and even serving as an attorney-in-fact under a power of attorney.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

Additional Elder Law Articles

Search LawInfo's Elder Law Resources

Related Topics In This Section