Legal issues for senior citizens are plenty, and they touch into all areas of life. It is imperative that you know your legal rights in order to take the right steps to safeguard yourself and your interests. Whether you are experiencing problems with creditors, want to write a will or feel like you have been unfairly treated by a caretaker, putting your legal affairs in order will go a long way in giving you the much-needed peace of mind. You will be contented knowing that your wishes are known and that they will be followed to the latter. From health information to essential legal documents and other legal considerations, this article has prepared the legal issues that we feel you and your family need to address to ensure that your wishes are fulfilled. Different states have different laws regarding seniors and to find out about laws specific to your state, we advise you to seek legal advice from a qualified attorney.
Elder Law is a fast growing field of expertise and specialization within the law that exclusively deals with specific legal issues that senior citizens face. It is imperative for attorneys dealing with seniors to comprehend the laws that have a direct impact on the unique needs of their senior clients. The Older American Act (OAA) allocates funds for programs and development of research for senior citizens in every state. Elder law pools elements of conservatorships, estate and financial planning, regulation of federal benefits, wills, trusts, guardianships, and any other issues that affect senior citizens.
Let’s dive straight into our list of important legal issues for senior citizens.
Estate and financial planning are two areas that seniors think about most. It may seem simple, but estate planning is a legal issue that involves more than just determining which family member gets what asset. It also ensures that senior citizens may finance their own medical bills and expenses. In many states, if you pass on without a will, trust or any other provision for how your property and money will be dispersed, the distribution will be done according to the laws of that state.
Wills and trusts designate the orderly transfer of your property. A will is a trusted and sure way you can control the distribution of your personal possessions after death. Not having a will in place can lead to ugly legal disputes over your entire estate after you pass on. You can alternatively arrange for distribution of your money and property through a living trust. A living trust might be appropriate depending on your financial situation. It allows you to control your assets while you are still alive, but have it allocated to individuals and organizations you choose when you die. When drafting a will or a trust, you need to take into consideration probate laws and tax ramifications.
If you don’t leave a will, in most cases the state distributes the property and money based on the relationship people in your life had with you. Property such as insurance proceeds, joint bank accounts and other financial investments are normally allocated to the individual you designated as the beneficiary. To get legal advice on how to distribute your assets after you die, it is your responsibility to hire your own lawyer.
Every American citizen has a right to be protected from exploitation, abuse and neglect. Elder abuse can either be physical, mental or financial. It is unfortunate that most cases of elder abuse come from family members and caretakers of the senior citizens. If you feel exploited, abused or neglected as a senior citizen for whatever reason, you can contact Adult Protective Services to get help. If you are living in a healthcare facility such as residential health care, assisted living or a nursing home and you experience or suspect another senior undergoes any of the three mistreatments mentioned, you may anonymously contact the State Ombudsman for the Institutionalized Elderly. Physical signs of elder abuse can include unkempt appearance, untreated medical conditions, dehydration or malnutrition, blisters, scratches and burns, and torn clothing. Financial signs of elder abuse include lack of personal amenities, unusual bank account activity, inconsistent spending habits, several unpaid bills and the emergence of a stranger handling a senior citizen’s finances.
Many senior citizens think that in the likely event that they cannot make their own decisions, their families automatically take over. This isn’t necessarily true. For estate and financial decisions, you need legal authority. You can choose to assign this authority to an attorney. Don’t wait until you face a legal problem to find an attorney specializing in legal planning for senior citizens. Before settling on one attorney, it is important to know the specific legal areas that they specialize in. Hiring an attorney that handles matters in your area of concern regularly will have a significant impact on your decisions. You are free to ask an attorney questions to see if they are familiar with your legal concerns. There are different websites in every state that recommend an attorney near where you stay.
Attorney fees vary depending on a number of factors like the experience of the attorney, the difficulty of your issue and the nature of services offered. The Older American Act (OAA), the most significant elder legislation in the US was enacted to provide local legal assistance programs for senior citizens. Under the act, free legal assistance is offered to senior citizens in the following areas: consumer issues, health care, public entitlement, protecting autonomy, individual rights, housing/utilities and domestic issues. To get more information, visit the County Office on Aging.
The Office of the Public Guardian is tasked with the responsibility of making financial, legal and healthcare decisions for senior citizens who have been determined to be incapacitated by a Superior Court judge. When the court assigns the office of the Public Guardian with a case, it accepts as there are no other responsible, willing or approprate members of the incapacitated senior’s family or close friend to serve as guardian.
Senior citizens are eligible for various federal benefits that include Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicare and Social Security. These federal benefits protect older adults from becoming uninsured and destitute in their golden years. Supplemental Security Income provides senior citizens with a minimum guaranteed income to cater for daily needs like medical expenses, food and leisure. The amount allocated is dependent on financial needs. Social Security benefits are allocated depending on the income that a senior citizen has earned over the years. Medicare is a federal program offering acute medical coverage to senior citizens. Medicaid, on the other hand, is a joint federal-state program aimed at providing health insurance to older adults. Eligibility to both of these programs is based on age.
Seniors have different legal issues from their younger counterparts. The above list of important legal issues for senior citizens is not exhaustive of all the probable legal issues you may face as a senior citizen, but it covers the key areas to reflect on. The information is meant to help provide a starting point for senior citizens and their loved ones. You should hire an attorney to determine whether there are additional legal concerns that may apply to you and your family.
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