When Do I Need an Elder Law Attorney?

The legal issues facing us as we age are unique and complex.  An elder law attorney can help you and your family navigate the complicated financial, legal, and health care decisions of aging.  Not understanding these unique needs and legal implications could result in the loss of your hard-earned life savings and may get in the way of you living the life you want to live.

Isn’t elder law the same as estate planning?

Not exactly. While there are many commonalities between elder law and estate planning, and they often address the same basic issues, elder law differs in that looks more comprehensively at your overall financial, legal and life situation. Elder law helps you express your goals and maximize benefits while you are still alive. Estate Planning is often geared to how and what you leave to your loved ones when you die, to help avoid the hassles of probate and possibly minimize estate taxes.

How can an elder law attorney benefit your family?

Elder law encompasses many different fields of law.  Not all elder law attorneys are the same, nor do they practice in all areas of law affecting seniors.  It all depends on the attorney’s experience and knowledge within various areas of elder law.  These may include:

Establishing your priorities and naming important decision makers

While helping you plan your legacy after you die, an elder law attorney also helps you focus on expressing your goals while you are alive. An elder law attorney will work with you to ensure important secondary decision-makers are in place to handle your finances and health care decisions should you be unable to do so due to illness or incompetence.  This ensures that your wishes are known and followed, even when you are unable to express them yourself.

Government benefits for nursing or long-term care

Nursing home care in Massachusetts costs on average between $13,000 and $17,000 per month and would wipe most family’s life savings. An elder law attorney can help you qualify for Medicaid, also known as Mass Health, in Massachusetts. MassHealth imposes strict rules regarding asset spending and gifting in order to qualify for benefits An elder law attorney will be knowledgeable of these rules and can guide you to create a plan in case you ever need long-term care.

Care planning and coordination

As we age, health needs and paying for that care become more immediate and more complicated. It requires an attorney who understands your options.  An elder law attorney can help your family sort through the right living situation or long-term care options while coordinating the financial resources, including qualifying for all applicable federal and state programs, to finance the cost of care.


One of the hardest things for an adult child is to see an elderly parent or loved one lose their ability to make decisions for themselves. This happens more frequently as we live longer and diseases such as dementia take hold.  When a person is unable to make rational decisions about their life or care, they may need someone to assume responsibility for their affairs. An elder law attorney can help navigate the difficult and complex Probate Court procedures which may be necessary to get a guardian appointed with the legal authority to make important life decisions.

Navigating difficult family and life situations

An experienced elder law attorney can often assist in challenging family situations. Some examples of situations include:

  • You may have a disabled family member and want to ensure this person is provided for in case something happens to you in the future.
  • You may move in with one of your adult children and want to make sure the care they provide to you is reflected in any final estate distribution or create a family care contract to maintain family harmony.
  • Your spouse is no longer able to live with you independently and needs a higher level of care.
  • You have a child with a spending problem, or you are worried of a possible future divorce and do not want your ex-son or daughter-in-law getting half your child’s inheritance.
  • Your estate is worth over a million dollars or you have substantial assets in retirement accounts and you’re worried that your family may not have the ability to pay the Massachusetts or Federal estate tax due.

Establishing a long-term relationship

The issues faced as we age should not be approached as a one-time transaction. It takes time to develop life goals and ensure that those goals are understood and will be honored.  Additionally, as we age, our needs and goals also change as time goes on: marriage, divorce, children, grandchildren, retirement, and illness are just some of the events that can affect your plan.  Working with an elder law attorney that understands the importance of developing and maintaining an ongoing working relationship with you is critical to ensure that your life plan continues to work for you and your family.

Choosing an elder law attorney is a big decision. If an attorney says they practice elder law, made sure you  clarify which area they practice and  if their experience is relevant to your legal issue.  For example, if making a long-term care decision for your loved one is important, make sure the elder law attorney has experience in that area or maybe even has a nursing or medical background. Hiring an attorney who is not qualified in these areas could be very costly and cause your family a bigger problem down the road.  Hiring the right elder law attorney can give the peace of mind that your loved one is getting the appropriate, knowledgeable advice as they age.

Founded by a nurse attorney, and with offices in Acton and Sudbury, Generations Law Group helps families navigate the complex area of elder law to inform and protect  loved ones in every generation.