What is Elder Law?

You've probably heard the term "elder law." But, what really does an "elder lawyer" specialize in. What's meant -- By the term?

-- By K. Gabriel Heiser, Attorney

The field of "elder law" (or "elderlaw" as it is also known) is a relatively new one. Before the term existed, attorneys who currently specialize in elderlaw generally worked as estate planning, disability, or government benefits attorneys.

Over time, it began to be recognized as a separate and distinct category of legal knowledge. Soon state boards of specialization were recognizing elderlaw as a separate specialty. The only national organization devoted to elderlaw, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (www.NAELA.org), was founded in 1988 to focus on the legal needs of the elderly.

Attorneys who desire to work with the elderly and the disabled have to have a working familiarity with the following:

  • federal and state government benefits programs for the elderly and disabled, such as Medicaid, Medicare, SSI, and SSDI
  • the law of wills
  • the law of trusts
  • real estate law
  • the rights of spouses
  • contract law
  • intestacy rules
  • estate tax
  • income tax

--and, they have to be darn good in math, since they often have to create spreadsheets and run complex calculations as part of their benefits planning!

In addition to the above, an elderlaw attorney must be able to communicate with a senior who may not be as sharp as he or she once was, and be able to explain the intricasies of a complex and byzantine system of rules, regulations and laws to the entire family.

Finally, it helps if the elderlaw attorney is a good psychologist, since sometimes the "best" solution is not necessarily the one the attorney might choose for himself, but the one that suits the particular dynamics and cultural background of the client's family. Being able to work with multiple generations while still clearly representing the actual "client" is a great asset to an experienced elderlaw attorney.

K. Gabriel Heiser is an attorney with over 25 years experience in elder law and estate planning. Heiser is the author of “How to Protect Your Family's Assets from Devastating Nursing Home Costs: Medicaid Secrets,” an annually updated practical guide for the layperson. For more information about this book, visit Medicaid Secrets.

Here's a good place to look for an Elder Law or Medicaid Attorney.

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--by Beth Heikkinen
Marquette, Michigan
I just want to thank you for this site. It answered my questions. I think many people that do research on the net take it for granted and when they find what they are looking for they forget "someone put time, money, etc into providing me with this information."

Thank you!

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