Elder law is a relatively new area of the law, having only recently evolved as an answer to the growing legal needs of the elderly population in the United States. Because it is a relatively new area of the law, many people are unsure what types of legal matters an “elder law” attorney handles. If you are one of those people, you may find yourself wondering “When might need an elder law attorney?” Knowing the answer to that question is important because if you are elderly yourself, or are a caregiver for an elderly individual, recognizing the need for an elder law attorney will ensure that you work with an attorney who really understands your needs and issues.
The Greying of America
In recent years, the elderly (age 65 and older) population in the U.S. has increased at a heretofore unprecedented rate. In less than 40 years, between 2012 and 2050, the population of older Americans is expected to jump from about 43 million to over 83 million – an increase of almost 100 percent. As a result, the older Americans will outnumber their younger counterparts (age 21 and under) for the first time in history. The Baby Boomer generation is largely responsible for this phenomenon which has been referred to as the “Greying of America.” Not only are there simply more people in the Baby Boomer generation than in any previous generation, but the life expectancy of the average American has also almost doubled in the last 100 years, meaning they will live much longer than previous generations as well. The explosion of the elderly population has had an impact on almost every segment of American society, including the legal field. We now have a significant group of Americans who face unique legal needs, giving rise to a new area of the law known as “elder law.”
Elder Law Is Born
The increase in the elderly population has led to an increase in the need for services catering to the elderly, including legal services. While older individuals face many of the same legal issues that younger people do, they also have some unique legal needs and concerns. With this in mind, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, or NAELA, was formed in the late 1980s as a way to better serve this growing segment of the population. Five years after the creation of NAELA, the National Elder Law Foundation was formed. The purpose of the non-profit NELF was to help improve the professional skills of attorneys who choose to focus on elder law. Toward that end, NELF then developed a national certification program for attorneys known as the Certified Elder Law Attorney, or CELA, certification program. The first CELA examination was given in 1994 with the American Bar Association endorsing the certification program the following year.
Types of Cases an Elder Law Attorney Might Handle
Unlike other areas of the law where an attorney hones his/her skills and knowledge in one specific area of the law, an elder law attorney must focus more on how the elderly are represented in various areas of the law. Often, legal issues faced by the elderly involve more than one area of the law. Some of the issues that an elder law attorney might handle, however, include:
- Estate planning
- Elder Abuse
- Incapacity planning
- Landlord – tenant issues
- Medicaid eligibility
- Social Security benefits
- Long-term care planning
- Advanced directives
- Special needs planning
- Health care issues
Think of elder law in broad terms instead of narrow terms. Essentially, any legal issues that impact the elderly, or those who care for the elderly, would fall within the purview of an elder law attorney. An elder law attorney has made the choice to understand how issues that impact the elderly affect them and their loved ones and how to with those issues from a legal perspective.
For additional information, please join us for one of our upcoming seminars. If you have additional questions or concerns about the types of legal issues an elder law attorney handles, contact the experienced North Carolina elder law attorneys at Clarity Legal Group® by calling (919) 484-0012 to schedule an appointment.