Elder law is a legal specialty that helps protect people as they age. Seniors must make many important decisions, like where to live, how to protect their assets, access medical care, and maintain their quality of life.

an older adult woman sits on a living room chair and reads a book.

Elder law and the attorneys who practice it help older adults ensure they get the things they need and avoid predators who commit fraud and abuse against seniors. We’re breaking down what elder law is and common issues that these attorneys help seniors address.

How elder law attorneys help older adults

Elder law encompasses many legal disciplines, including criminal, property, family, tax, and corporate law. Seniors may need help with nursing home neglect, abuse, estate planning, selling property, helping loved ones avoid estate taxes and probate, and other issues.

As people get older, the problems they face in their daily lives change. People 65 and older are a part of a vulnerable population. Elder law helps protect seniors against the possible negative effects of common issues that older people face.  

Common issues that seniors face

Physical health

Seniors may face aging-related health issues. Physical changes contribute to decreased independence in cooking, cleaning, running errands, and caring for themselves. Failing physical health can even make seniors more vulnerable to elder abuse.

Mental health

Seniors may also experience loneliness. Older people may live isolated lives at higher rates than other populations. Their living conditions may contribute to increased rates of depression in seniors.

Nursing home care and neglect

Elder law attorneys can help seniors apply for Medicaid to ensure they have access to nursing homes that provide excellent care to residents. There are civil and criminal avenues to recover if you have suffered neglect at a nursing home. An elder law attorney can help you explore your rights.

Medication noncompliance

Medication noncompliance can have severe consequences for a senior’s health. With the assistance of an elder law attorney, the senior can apply for benefits to get access to home health care to help seniors maintain a regular medication schedule.  

Financial security

The cost of senior care, including health care, housing, food, medication, and other expenses, varies from location to location across the country — but it can be costly. Medicare and Medicaid are programs designed for the elderly and disabled people to pay their regular expenses.

End-of-Life preparation

Conversations about end-of-life care can be uncomfortable, but they are necessary.  An attorney specializing in elder law can help you create a comprehensive estate plan.

There is more to an estate plan than a last will and testament. An elder law attorney can help you create a last will, advance directive, power of attorney, and other documents to protect your assets and take care of your family’s needs.

Elder Abuse

People 65 and up are vulnerable to different forms of abuse. Elder abuse may be the biggest problem facing seniors. This topic is explored more thoroughly below.

What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is a pervasive problem among aging people. Elder abuse often goes unreported, leaving senior citizens at risk for exploitation, severe injury, and death. Abuse can take many forms, including physical, emotional, sexual, financial, or neglect or abandonment.

Who is vulnerable to abuse?

Any senior is vulnerable to abuse. The World Health Organization reported in 2022 that approximately one in six people age 60 and older had experienced some form of abuse in the last year. Older adults with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other memory issues may find themselves a target of elder abuse. If a senior lacks support from their family and friends, they may fall victim to elder abuse.

Red flags for elder abuse

If you suspect elder abuse, monitoring your loved one’s habits is important. Some common signs that may indicate elder abuse include

  • Bruises, cuts, scrapes, broken bones, or other physical injuries
  • Lack of personal care and poor hygiene
  • The older adult stops paying rent and other bills
  • Unexpected changes to a last will, power of attorney, advance healthcare directive, or signatory on a bank account
  • Unexplained changes in mood or temperament
  • Social withdrawal
  • Overspending on gifts, vacations, or goods or services that are unusual
  • Refusal to take medication or attend doctor visits

How you and elder law attorneys can prevent elder abuse

Protecting older adults is a priority. Family members can take these steps to help prevent elder abuse:

  • Listen and believe seniors when they disclose abuse
  • Know the signs of elder abuse
  • Make respite care available for family, friends, and caregivers
  • Report abuse incidents or suspected abuse to state adult protective services

Elder law attorneys can also help prevent elder abuse. An attorney can help prevent it by asking about pertinent information during the initial interview. The attorney should get a sense of their client’s state of mind and understand the client’s grasp on their finances and other property.

Elder law attorneys have legal and ethical obligations that may require them to report suspected elder abuse. Attorneys may be required to report suspected financial exploitation to the state adult protective services.