Elder law is an area of law focused on protecting senior citizens' rights and health, aiding seniors in receiving benefits, and ensuring affordable and safe living conditions. The area of law has developed along with a growing number of retiring Baby Boomers who need help navigating the process of receiving medical and income benefits and who want to address end-of-life formalities like establishing an estate plan. Further, as the elderly population grows, the number of seniors living in nursing homes and using in-home care increases and so does the rise in claims of abuse and neglect.
Attorneys practicing elder law provide estate planning services, handle conservatorship or power of attorney documents, represent seniors in Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits disputes, and represent seniors and their families who file claims of abuse. The bulk of elder law practice focuses on fiduciary representation and representation at administrative hearings. Some elder law issues lead to litigation such as disability and age discrimination, pension and insurance benefits, and alleged abuses in nursing homes.
The practice of elder law is both legal and personal in nature. Elder law attorneys often must learn about their client's overall needs to successfully address a specific legal need. For instance, attorneys typically help elderly clients plan for future needs that include housing, long-term healthcare, and estate planning. To accomplish these goals, attorneys draft wills, trusts, and advanced directives. Additionally, elder law attorneys often act as an informal mediator when disagreements arise between their clients and their clients' families.
Elder law attorneys enjoy the variety of subjects covered by the law and their work with clients. Some attorneys say the need to manage a client's health, estate, and personal rights creates a stimulating mix of practice areas. Elder law attorneys also report that they feel fulfilled at the end of each day because they help clients in need.
Areas of elder law specialization include: Elder Abuse; Power of Attorney; Estate Planning; Conservatorships; Social Security; Evictions; and, Medi-Cal/Medicaid.
Students who would like to practice health law should take classes in a broad range of subjects, since health law incorporates a variety of traditional practice areas (torts, contracts, employment law, and taxation, to name a few). Legal writing classes are also highly recommended, since health law attorneys are regularly required to draft legal documents. A science background can be helpful because it sometimes allows attorneys to understand medical issues more quickly, but it is not required. Business experience is also an asset in this field, since healthcare providers are businesses that need to ensure their continued financial well-being when making legal decisions.
- Elder Law and Social Policy
- Estate and Gift Tax/Estate Planning
- Family Law
- Health Law
Breadth and Depth
- Administrative Law
- Bioethics and the Law
- Federal Income Taxation
- Health Law Policy
- Insurance Law
- Public Health Law
- Sexual Orientation and the Law
Elder law attorneys provide legal guidance to their clients on personal matters. The work requires both expertise in the law and the ability to communicate well with clients and their families over documents and decisions that can become emotional. Skills of successful elder law attorneys include:
- Attention to detail
- Proactive and able to anticipate future needs
Participating in practice-related activities will strengthen the skills you need to successfully practice in elder law.
- Join a club or group on campus focused on elder, health, or estate planning law
- Law Review
- Serve as a summer associate for a solo practitioner, law firm, or nonprofit specializing in elder law
Practice Settings & Clients
Where do elder law attorneys work?
Elder law attorneys work in a variety of practice settings. These include:
- Solo practitioners
- Small law firms
- Non-profit organizations
Who are their clients?
- Elderly individuals
- Individuals with disabilities
- Family members of an incapacitated individual
It is important to understand the current issues facing seniors. Further, representing a senior usually requires knowledge in more than just one area of elder law. The following resources are helpful to consult:
- National Elder Law Foundation
- The American Bar Association on Law and Aging
- The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys