ETHICAL ELDER LAW PRACTICE
We are aware that our senior clients face many challenges and concerns, both legal and non-legal. Elder law is truly “holistic”. We would be doing a great disservice to our senior clients if we stopped at an examination of the legal implications of any given decision. Sound elder law planning must take into account areas as diverse as financial planning, tax planning, healthcare, medical decision-making, and family dynamics. Some of these areas are addressed by us with our elder law mediation practice.
A competent elder law attorney must also understand how all other areas of law could potentially impact his or her senior clients. From divorce to the acquisition of real estate, virtually every other area of law will impact what we as elder law attorneys are trying to accomplish with our clients. In a sense, elder law attorneys must be “jacks of all trades”. But once we understand how all of these different areas of law and beyond might affect our clients, we begin to see numerous conflicts which often must be addressed.
One conflict that frequently arises is between financial and estate planning. An elder law attorney might be focused too narrowly on how every financial decision could potentially impact the client’s future eligibility for Medicaid. As a result, senior clients are sometimes counseled against basic, life-sustaining financial planning for fear that they will one day be rejected on a Medicaid application. In other words, the senior client is forced to ignore the forest and remain focused on the trees. We call this “living in fear of the Medicaid application.” Good elder law planning will recognize the impact financial planning decisions can have on things like Medicaid qualification, but will also be aware of a senior’s need for a steady income and comfortable place to live.
We also see conflicting interests at play when seniors feel pressure to leave behind a financial legacy for their children. Often times, this pressure leads seniors to live lifestyles that are less than adequate for their needs, simply so that they can preserve their children’s inheritance. While this is a perfectly understandable instinct, there is most often a better alternative that properly balances the client’s needs with his or her desire to leave something behind. It is the job of the ethical elder law attorney to help the client strike the appropriate balance.
Our firm takes great care in thinking through the many issues that affect seniors, and remember that “We make elder law house calls!”