March 29, 2006
Understanding laws governing elderly people can benefit
you and your loved ones
The aging process presents a variety of legal issues that are becoming more complex and relevant as the nation's population becomes more elderly. The "Baby Boomer Generation" is reaching its golden years and the statistics are startling. In Pennsylvania alone, the number of people age 75 to 84 has increased more than 20 percent in the past decade – and those 85 and older increased by nearly 40 percent in the same period. Twenty years from now over three million people, or 25 percent of Pennsylvania's population, will be age 60 or older. These demographics have led forward-thinking law firms and practitioners to create a new specialty practice area for dealing with the legal issues of the aging population.
Elder Law Practitioners
Unfortunately, many people overlook appropriate legal planning for their older years. Many die without a will to direct the disposition of their estate. Others become ill or frail without health care documents to express their wishes for medical treatment. Many more go straight from the hospital to a nursing home never having seen their new living quarters. With the proper documents in place and the help of an elder law practitioner or attorney, the unpleasant and sometimes costly scenarios listed above may be mitigated or avoided.
Specifically, an elder law practitioner can help with:
- Property disposition (wills, trusts, life insurance and powers of attorney);
- Tax issues (effective use of income, gift and estate tax deductions, credits and exclusions);
- Employee benefits (IRAs, 401(k)s, pensions and life insurance);
- Residence issues (advice on personal care homes, assisted living residences, and continuing care communities);
- Medical issues (advance directives for health care and living wills); Elder abuse and neglect issues.
An elder law practitioner can also aid in retirement planning. Because Federal law governs many aspects of retirement plans, an attorney is in a good position to advise someone approaching retirement about maximizing and coordinating benefits through: well-designed beneficiary designations; asset rollovers; and, in some situations, account reclassifications.
Who benefits from Elder Law?
Anyone, regardless of age, can benefit from proactive legal planning. It's a mistake to assume only the elderly benefit from the services of an elder law practitioner.
Placing a Loved One in a Personal Care Facility
A friend or relative of an elderly person may be in the situation of having to place a loved one in a personal care home. This can be a daunting task both from an emotional and a practical standpoint. An attorney, or elder law practitioner, reviews any necessary documents or contracts, ensuring that funds are available for that person's care, and executes any protective documents they may need such as an advance directive or living will.
Executing an Estate Plan
Having an estate plan gives peace of mind to you and your loved ones. This is especially true for couples who are not married or single individuals. For unmarried couples, the need for an estate plan is especially crucial because they do not have the protection of legal defaults that married couples have. Instead, unmarried couples must expressly document their lifetime and testamentary wishes in order to ensure that they are carried out upon their death.
Preparing for Retirement
An individual approaching retirement may want to be advised of options for maximizing retirement income. Dispositions from employer sponsored or individual retirement plans as well as government sponsored programs can be maximized through the coordination of benefits. This can be accomplished through well-designed beneficiary designations, asset rollovers, and in some situations account reclassifications. Because Federal law governs many aspects of retirement plans, an attorney would serve as an excellent adviser to someone approaching retirement.
While no one can halt the aging process, an elder law practitioner can help plan and prepare for the legal issues many face as they grow older.
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West Chester, PA 19381–0660
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Speak with a licensed attorney about your own specific situation.
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