Are you interested in learning more about elder law, how it could benefit your practice, and how you could go about incorporating this area of law into your practice? You have come to the right place.
What is elder law?
Elder law is the area of law focused on issues that affect the aging population. While estate planning law focuses on what happens when the individual passes away, elder law focuses on what happens while the individual is still alive. This can include guardianship issues, addressing elder abuse claims, handling discrimination claims, planning for long-term care, obtaining government benefits, and helping with special needs issues. Let’s discuss some of these points in more detail.
Many seniors will need long-term care. Indeed, LongTermCare.gov claims “Someone turning age 65 today has almost a 70% chance of needing some type of long-term care services and supports in their remaining years.” What kind of care will the senior need? Who is going to provide this care? How is the senior going to obtain and pay for this care?
The average monthly cost for nursing home care is $8,821 per month. While some seniors have saved enough money to pay for their care for a while, most would exhaust their life savings pretty quickly. Rather than spend all of their money on care, an elder law attorney can help get the senior qualified for public benefits that will pay for the care.
Medicaid will pay for long-term care for individuals who meet certain income and asset thresholds. Navigating these rules and getting the senior qualified for Medicaid benefits is a huge part of elder law. An elder law attorney can help the client protect their life savings while getting the client needed care.
An elder law practitioner can also help clients with special needs issues. This could mean the client has special needs and needs planning, or their loved one has special needs. Planning needs to be done for those with special needs so that the individual doesn’t lose access to their public benefits. Planning could entail putting special needs trusts in place, such as the First-Party Special Needs Trust or a Third-Party Supplemental Needs Trust.
Why would you want to incorporate elder law into your practice?
First and foremost, elder law attorneys make a difference in their clients’ lives! Clients come in with a daunting problem (usually needing care) and you solve that problem for them. Not only that, you preserve what they have worked so hard for all their lives, so that they can pass those assets along to their loved ones after their passing.
Many lawyers want to provide services that make people happy. Helping people brings personal satisfaction to the lawyer and betters the community. Tired of litigation or working in an area of law that breeds constant conflict? While elder law isn’t entirely conflict-free, it is oftentimes much less stressful than many other areas of law.
Elder law can also be profitable for the practitioner. Forbes estimates that planning for the “spouse of someone with Alzheimer’s disease who has $1.7 million in” various assets (including the home) would run $8,000 to $16,000. Imagine the extra revenue you could bring into your firm if you incorporated elder law into your practice.
How to incorporate elder law into your practice.
It can be daunting to delve into a new practice area. But don’t let that stop you! With risk can come great reward, for both you and your clients. Here is a practical guide to getting started on your journey into elder law.
Step 1: Educate yourself.
As with any area of law, you are going to need to know the rules. You are going to need to read some federal statutes and your state Medicaid eligibility manual. You are going to need to learn about trusts, wills, and powers of attorney.
At ElderCounsel, we have bountiful resources at your fingertips.
- Members can access a plethora of educational webinars on our website covering various topics in elder law, including trust drafting, taxation, and administration.
- We have an ongoing quarterly webinar series that covers pertinent case law around the country.
- There are state-specific web pages that can guide you in Medicaid planning in your particular jurisdiction.
- A community listserv can help with planning-type questions.
- ElderDocx®, our document drafting software, makes drafting trusts, wills, and powers of attorney simple.
Most practitioners that are new to elder law greatly benefit from attending an Elder Law Immersion and Practice Building Camp. This is a three-day camp (in person or virtual) that goes into the legal-technical rules and concepts of Medicaid planning. Attendees will also get integral practice-building information, marketing strategies, and a follow-up implementation series where you will learn how to draft documents. This camp is a way to truly immerse yourself into how to add elder law to your existing practice while qualifying for up to 13.25 CLE hours (including 1 hour of ethics).
Finally, if you want to fine-tune your skills in special needs planning, attend our Special Needs Planning and Drafting Immersion Camp. You can earn up to 6 CLE hours by attending this virtual event. At the Special Needs Planning and Drafting Immersion Camp, attendees will walk through the documents, planning techniques, and marketing strategies particular to this practice area. This camp was specifically created to mix the legal and the practical so attendees can apply the lessons learned right away.
Step 2: Decide what areas you want to focus on.
Now that you know all about elder law, including Medicaid planning and special needs planning, decide what services you would like to offer at your firm. You can choose to practice in all areas or just some areas. This decision will involve knowing what skills you have, what types of cases you would like to work on, and the client demographic in your area. Being clear on your practice areas will make the next steps much easier.
Step 3: Comprise a pricing schema.
How is your firm going to charge elder law clients? Will it be a flat fee, by the hour, or hybrid? One way some practitioners choose to charge clients is to charge a flat fee for analyzing the client’s case and creating the case roadmap and then if the client chooses to proceed to implement that roadmap, additional fees will be incurred. This way, the attorney isn’t giving advice for free and the client can rest easy knowing exactly how their case will proceed before incurring the larger charges.
ElderDocx makes it easy to create a case roadmap via the Medicaid Asset Protection Letter. The letter lists the client’s income and assets and puts forth planning strategies to deal with excess income or assets to get the client qualified for benefits. This letter spells out in black and white the roadmap for the client’s case and exactly what type of services you will be offering. After the client has paid for the case analysis and roadmap letter and you have reviewed it with them, the client can then agree to undergo the proposed planning and pay for those additional services.
Step 4: Market your new skills.
Now that you have the proper knowledge and have decided on a plan, it’s time to let people know about it! Make posts to all your firm’s social media accounts, update your website, send mailers to current clients, contact referral sources, and market to new clients. (Need help with marketing? Contact Law As a Business.)
ElderCounsel also offers many business developments webinars on their website. A few titles include How to Avoid Mistakes When Budgeting Your Law Firm’s Marketing Plan, How to Create a Successful Marketing Plan and Stick with It, Blogging and Social Media: The Digital Marketing Combination, How to Create an Effective Email Campaign, Three Myths About SEO Debunked, and the list goes on and on.
Adding elder law to your existing practice can be very rewarding, but will take some effort. Luckily, ElderCounsel is here to make it easier for you. Instead of referring these types of cases out, you can take them on and keep those clients (and the revenue) in your firm.
With a wide array of elder law documents available through ElderDocx, there's no better time to start than now! Contact us today to learn more about the benefits of an ElderCounsel membership.