There comes a time in every senior’s retirement when you should see an elder law attorney. Some seniors put it off until a decade or more after retirement when they feel that it’s time to sort a few final things out. Others take care of many elder law concerns when preparing for retirement in their fifties. A rare few even have plans for their wills and surviving spouse care early in their careers. However, after you retire it’s important to have certain documents and financial plans in place just in case something happens that might otherwise take control out of your hands.
The Importance of Elder Law
Even a temporary injury or illness could result in changes you don’t like and can’t reverse depending on who takes charge of your care and finances while you are incapacitated. Elder law covers a wide variety of issues that relate specifically to seniors and estate management and which are necessary to build a complete retirement and inheritance plan.
However, not everyone has a clear picture of what to ask an elder law attorney once they consult with one. It’s easy enough to think ‘I should get some legal guidance.’ But it is harder to know how to get exactly the assistance you need. To help in this endeavor, we’ve put together ten of the most important questions to ask your elder law attorney to get the right balls rolling.
1) “What is your experience in elder law?”
Just because an attorney or office says they can handle elder law doesn’t actually mean that they do handle elder law on a regular basis. Your specific attorney may not even have more than a few cases worth of experience in elder law. That is a big difference from working with an experienced expert in elder law. While you may be alright working with an amateur training up their skills, only make this compromise if you are also getting a discount in services and have a strong grasp of your own elder law needs.
If you are new to most of the ins and outs of elder law, then seek a well-experienced elder law attorney who can help you assess your situation. They will also be able to guide you through careful late-life planning and preparing all the necessary documents.
2) “Does your practice focus on an elder law niche?”
There are a surprising number of facets to elder law. From writing wills to prosecuting elder abuse, many practices or specific lawyers will have a specialty area. This is where they have done the most work and are the most skilled in offering assistance. Unless you have an especially problematic situation, you are most likely looking for elder law attorneys who specialize in estate planning, insurance, long-term care, and power of attorney.
3) “What is the most important aspect of elder law?”
This is more of an interview question than a way to seek information. However, the answer can tell you a lot about the personal priorities and viewpoints held by your elder law attorney. The current hot-button topic is long-term care. As general quality of healthcare increases lifespans, the ‘twilight years’ are much longer than they used to be. Your elder law attorney might alternately emphasize writing the will, making plans for incapacity, or sorting out your estate finances.
4) “What is my biggest concern as a retiree?”
The next step is to lay out your personal financial situation. Explain your income, your savings levels, your splurge spending, and your family situation. That way your elder law attorney has the full picture. Then they can give advice that serves all or most of your goals at once. When they have a clear understanding of your situation, ask them what your biggest concern as a retiree should be in terms of elder law. This is their opportunity to impress you with their insights and knowledge. Or to explain something important about how your personal circumstances should be dealt with.
5) “Who should have my power of attorney should dementia or illness become a problem?”
Power of attorney is a vital issue for any senior, especially those approaching or already passed the age of 70. Even if there appears to be no risk of dementia in your personal or family medical history, a major illness or injury can put you in a state where someone else may need to wield your power of attorney for a while. This issue becomes increasingly more important as you near your end of life. It can determine who makes decisions about your final stages of care. Your elder law attorney should be able to help choose the right person in your family to be trusted with your power of attorney.
6) “Are there any risks inherent in my current retirement plan?”
Every retirement plan has a few holes because they are made of large overlapping savings accounts and backup plans. Some people invest in real estate, some build up several tax-deferred retirement savings accounts. Some people invest in annuities, and some get even more creative than that. An experienced elder law attorney may have some insights on where your retirement plan could possibly fall through. Or they can give pointers on how to optimize the assets you already have in play.
7) “How should I approach insurance and long-term care?”
Long-term care is necessary when a senior begins having trouble taking care of themselves and their home. Paying for long-term care, on the other hand, is something most seniors who started saving for retirement decades ago had any reason to expect. To help ease the burden, Medicaid and several other insurance options can help pay for these services. Your elder law attorney should be able to provide guidance on jumping through any hoops necessary to qualify for long-term-care coverage.
8) “How can I make provisions for my spouse if they survive me?”
Many people who retire with a spouse worry about predeceasing them and leaving their spouse alone. They worry about abandoning them to deal with the estate and the end of their own retirements. For couples, often the best way to plan for retirement is to make provisions that will take good care of one spouse if the other goes first. Consult with your elder law attorney to find out the best ways to do this with your current retirement savings plans in place. In many cases, your current funds can be transferred or directly inherited. Some setup may be required to ensure this happens smoothly.
9) “What documents do I need to have prepared for my heirs?”
One of the main services an elder law attorney offers is help with your will and estate planning. This can not only help you sort out who will inherit what. It can also prevent loved ones from being left with a big financial mess after you depart. When your estate, life insurance, and finances are all arranged to take care of themselves, everything will go smoother both during your retirement and afterward. Your elder law attorney can help you put together exactly the right combination of documents to make this happen.
10) “How often do I need to update my documents during retirement?”
Finally, never forget that times change and writing your will once may not be sufficient if your circumstances shift significantly. Whether you gain or lose money, buy or sell assets, or even have new family members, you will want to revise your will every few years. Your elder law attorney should be able to help you understand when the right time is to come back and revisit your will terms to keep them current.
For more information about planning for your retirement and estate, contact us today!