Three Surprising Things I’ve Learned Working for an Elder Law Attorney (You Might Be Surprised Too)
I’m not an Elder Law attorney – and I don’t play one on TV. That being said, I’ve had the pleasure of working at the Family & Aging Law Center since December of 2015. What I’ve learned has been eye-opening – even shocking. As a well-educated person, I always thought I knew just enough about estate planning and elder law. I was wrong.
First, I’m going to tell you a little bit about what I’ve learned about long term care in Michigan – which is, for most, also surprising. Generally speaking, the cost of skilled long term care can range anywhere from $8,000 - $14,000 a month (or more!). Shocking, isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t have that kind of money! If my husband or I were ever faced with one (or both) of us needing care, I wouldn’t want to see everything we’ve worked for disappear. Even worse, what happens after our life savings goes to the cost of care? What happens if we have expenses that aren’t covered by Medicare (there are many)? What happens if we’ve paid for things, such as helping our grandchildren with some college tuition costs, that may render us ineligible for assistance with things such as nursing home costs?
Honestly, I’d never given too much thought to these scenarios. I may have, on occasion, thought about this in regard to my parents. However, I now see families in these exact situations daily. It’s heartbreaking to see the stress, concern and worry our clients are dealing with. More than that, I now know they are getting information from friends, nursing homes and social workers that often isn’t very helpful, isn’t very good, or is straight out inaccurate.
Even though I was very surprised to learn the following three things, the best part about it is that there are legal solutions to these problems.
- I was astounded to find out that many Powers of Attorney do not work in planning for your long term care! I’ve seen people come in with powers of attorney (financial & medical) that actually limit what can be done for you in terms of long term care cost planning. Trust me, they are as surprised as I was to hear that despite good intentions, despite hiring professionals, the documents they have do not work for elder law purposes. I was amazed that there is a difference between the way “estate planning” powers of attorney work and “elder law” powers of attorney work. Luckily, this is an easy problem to fix, if you are proactive about getting it done.
- I was shocked to learn that elder law is necessary for everyone, no matter what your age! I’m not old, I don’t need estate planning or elder law – right? Estate planning is estate planning, right? Wrong. I used to think yes to both of these, but I’ve been shocked to see how many younger people need the type of planning that is done in elder law and to find out that general estate planning deals only with what happens after we die. The problem is, people don’t just die – they get sick, they live – but need more care at a higher cost than they ever realized. I hadn’t looked at things from this perspective before. It’s been a wakeup call to realize that my husband and I really needed to think about and plan for what would happen if we got sick or in an accident and couldn’t take care of our kids; if we can’t afford long term care; or that we may not have the physical or mental capacity to make any of those decisions when the time comes.
- I was stunned to learn that even if your family is in the middle of a medical crisis, It’s not too late (and - you don’t have too much money)! A time-sensitive medical crisis situation is overwhelming. It’s even more difficult when you get a lot of conflicting information. No matter what you’re being told, there are specialized legal tools so that you or your loved ones may access benefits to help with the cost of care. Even more surprising (despite what people always say) you don’t ever have “too much money”! I’ve now seen it time and time again: people often come in thinking there is no option but to spend all their money, but discover that elder law planning can help them save at least half (if not all) of their life’s savings while also getting assistance with the overwhelming cost of long term care.
I hope that you’ve found these three things as surprising as I have – and that, unlike so many, you are inspired to do something about it, before it is too late! Learn more about elderly care.
The information in this blog post is not intended to be, nor should it be, construed as legal advice. It is for informational purposes only. For advice, specific to your situation, consult with a qualified attorney.
Julie is the Legal Services Coordinator at Family & Aging Law Center, an asset protection, estate planning and elder law firm led by attorney Nicole Wipp. She may be reached at (248) 278-1511.