1. What Is Elder Law?
Elder law focuses on legal issues commonly faced by today’s senior citizens. Lawyers in this area specialize in estate planning, conservatorships, Medi-Cal/Medicaid planning, SSI benefits issues, elder abuse, evictions, and power of attorney issues.
- Estate Planning focuses on the drafting of wills and trusts. Attorneys here provide a range of service from the simple (preparing a holographic will) to the complex (developing estate plans that reduce tax liability) Lawyers in this area have a firm knowledge of the California Probate Code and the local, state, and federal tax codes.
- Conservatorships: A conservatorship is a legal relationship where one individual is given control over another who the court deems to be incapable of caring for themselves. The amount of control depends on the individual facts of each case. In some cases, the conservator has limited control over the conservatee’s finance. In other cases, the conservator is charged with the daily care of the conservatee. Typical legal issues include 1) whether a conservatorship should be created; 2) whether a conservator acted outside the scope of the conservatorship and should be replaced; and 3) whether the conservatorship should be terminated.
- Seniors look to Medicare and Medical for help paying medical expenses. Elder attorney represent seniors when there is a dispute as to whether a treatment or individual is covered.
- Elder attorneys also represent individuals who are threatened with the loss of their Social Security Insurance.
- Elder abuse by family members, care takers, and senior living facilities is a persistent problem. Elder attorneys help to stop it by obtaining restraining orders and filing civil suits against the abusers.
- Non-profit law firms work to stop landlords from evicting seniors who are behind on their rent. They also help these seniors find affordable housing.
- A power of attorney is a document which grants one person the power to make decisions for another. Seniors frequently have attorneys draft power of attorney letters that give a relative or close friend the power to make medical decisions in the event the senior becomes incapacitated.
Elder law is likely to become a growing field for two reasons. First, the proportion of Americans over 65 is set to increase as the Baby Boom generation approaches retirement. Second, the Baby Boom generation is expected to live longer than previous generations. This large population will face new issues regarding SSI benefits, managed care, power of attorney, and insurance coverage. Furthermore, litigation regarding the quality of care and possible abuse of nursing home residents will increase as the number of senior living facilities is expected to grow.
2. Where is Elder Law Practiced?
Elder law is largely practiced by solo practitioners or small firms. These firms frequently practice in a number of areas of the law in addition to elder law. There are also some non-profit law firms, such as SALA, that deal specifically with elder law issues.
3. What Courses Should I Take?
- Community Property
- Disability Law
- Health Law 1: Patients, Providers
- Health Law 2: Health Care Regulation
- Family Law
- KGACLC Interviewing and Advising
- Interviewing and Counseling
4. What timeline should I be following?
Taking Elder Law and some estate planning courses during your second year will help you land a law clerk position at the end of your second year.
When looking for summer positions don’t narrow your search to elder law practices. Look into firms that focus on estate planning as well. This experience transfers easily into firms specializing in elder law.
- Work as a volunteer at SALA during your second year.
- Work as a volunteer at Bay Area Legal Services
- Consider applying for an internship with the ABA’s Commission on Law and Aging.
- If you live in San Diego during the summer consider volunteering at the Elder Law & Advocacy law firm.
- Contact California Advocates For Nursing Home Reform to see if they are offering any internship positions. For more information call (415) 974-5171 or e-mail Robert Martien at firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. What resources are there for people interested in elder law?
Being able to demonstrate your interest in elder law to potential employers is critical to landing a job. Visit the websites below to familiarize yourself with the issues facing senior today.
- AARP is the preeminent advocate group for America’s senior citizens. Visit their website to learn more about the issues facing America’s seniors.
- The ABA’s Commission on Law and Aging website gives a good summary of laws affecting senior citizens.
- Check out ElderWeb, a website specializing in elder care issues.
- The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys NAELA is the largest organization of lawyers dedicated to elder issues.
- Consider a career with the Social Security Administration
- National Council for Aging Care’s guide on Elder Abuse
- Many professional organizations are available on Linkedin:
What SCU professors have experience in elder law issues?