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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- What retirement benefits are available through the Social Security Administration?
- The Rights of Nursing Home Patients
- What are the requirements for a survivor to receive Social Security benefits?
- How to Help Your Parents Obtain Medical Care
- What is the maximum Social Security retirement benefit?
- How Trusts Can Help You Protect your Adult Children in the Event of Your Death
- What is the average monthly Social Security benefits for a retired worker?
- The Top Ten Legal Steps to Take Before You Die
- How long does a person need to work to become eligible for retirement benefits?
- Why Everyone, Even Young People, Need an Estate Plan
- When should I apply for retirement benefits?
- How to Care for an Aging Parent
- What is the earliest age that I can begin receiving retirement benefits?
- When will my retirement benefits begin?
- What Retirement Benefits Are Available Through the Social Security Administration?
- Will my benefit amount be the same for the rest of my life when I start receiving benefits?
- What Is Elder Law?
- How are my retirement benefits calculated?
- If I receive a government pension, how will this affect my Social Security benefits?
- Will my retirement pension from my job reduce the amount of my Social Security benefit?
- Will I receive more benefits if I delay my retirement?
- What age can I begin receiving full retirement benefits?
- What month do retirement benefits begin?
- What is the definition of Full Retirement Age?
- Can a non-citizen receive Social Security benefits?
- What are the requirements for a husband or wife to receive benefits?
- Can I receive benefits on an ex-spouse`s Social Security record?
- If both my spouse and I are entitled to Social Security benefits, is there any reduction in our payments?
- What are the requirements for a divorced spouse to receive benefits?
- I have never worked but my spouse has. What will my Social Security benefits be?
- Will a husband and wife`s combined benefits be reduced because of marriage?
- Does Social Security recognize common law marriage for the purpose of paying survivors and spouse`s benefits?
- How does a divorced spouse qualify for Social Security benefits?
- Can my spouse collect benefits at age 62 from her work and earnings and then receive additional benefits as a spouse?