I am proud to tell people that I work in the field of elder law. It is incredibly humbling and enlightening to work with our clients who have been around for decades longer than I have. Even though clients come to our office seeking our advice in preparing for the final years of their lives, I always come away from our meetings having gained a new perspective or having learned something I never knew before.
That said, sometimes I think the name “elder law” can be misleading. People sometimes ask me, “If you practice elder law, does that mean you only work with old people?” The answer is, most definitely not. I’ve met with some clients who, demographically speaking, might count as “elderly,” but I’m certainly not going to be the one who informs them that they’re old – and they would be too busy running circles around me to hear it, anyway! More seriously, though, even those of us who have not yet hit retirement age can benefit from many of the services that an elder law attorney provides.
Everyone needs a response team. Illness and accidents can happen to anyone, at any time, with no regard for age or circumstance. You are never too young to designate agents who can step in to help make healthcare and financial decisions in the event that the unthinkable happens and you are unable to make them for yourself. A General Durable Power of Attorney is a document that gives your designated agent authority to handle your finances. A Health Care Power of Attorney allows you to designate a health care representative to help direct your medical treatment, and a Health Care Declaration allows you to give guidance to your Health Care Representative about the kind of care you would like to receive if you were unable to direct your own care. If you have young children, it is also important that you have a plan in place for their care in the event that you were unable to care for them yourself.
Disability happens to young people, too. We help many people who are past retirement age plan to protect their assets in the event that they eventually need to pay for long term care. However, I’ve met many people under the age of sixty-five who need Medicaid to help them pay for care in skilled nursing facilities, or who receive community-based services under Medicaid waiver programs. I’ve met other young people with disabilities whose parents are able to meet their needs, but who will not be able to support themselves or live independently when their parents are no longer around to take care of them. Many of the same planning strategies we use to help our elderly clients can be helpful to younger people as well. In fact, younger people have some options to protect their assets that are not available to older people, like self-settled special needs trusts or ABLE accounts.
There are so many clichés about aging – “60 is the new 40!” “You are only as old as you feel!” On the other hand, “we aren’t getting any younger”. Even more importantly, no matter how old you are, you should have a plan in place in case the unthinkable happens. So don’t take the “elder” in “elder law” too literally – at Severns & Howard, we don’t have age limits.