Elder Law FAQs

What is elder law?

The need for elder law increases as the average human life span continues to increase. Elder law, originally based on the Older Americans Act, encompasses all legal matters related to aging. This branch of law protects senior citizens, and covers issues faced by the disabled and elderly, such as elder abuse, fraud, elder care facilities and housing, estate planning, and financial planning. Elder law also deals with the regulation of federal benefits, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Simply put, elder law focuses on meeting the objectives and goals of older individuals and their families by using different legal techniques and tools.

Why do I need an elder law attorney?

An elder law attorney is an advocate for the elderly, as well as for their loved ones. Older adults have more sensitive and specialized needs compared to younger adults, and a good elder law attorney possesses the necessary experience and training to effectively handle an extensive range of legal issues that a disabled or elderly person faces. Ultimately, an elder law attorney will help ensure that your hard-earned savings are not squandered on unnecessary taxes and expenses, and will do whatever is legally possible to help you age with security and dignity.

Who does an elder law attorney represent?

Most of the time, an elder law attorney represents the elderly individual in need of care and legal services. It makes the most sense to represent the patient, as an elder law attorney works primarily to protect the best interests of the elderly.

What is the difference between Medicaid and Medicare?

Medicaid and Medicare, both provided by government entities, are medical and health programs that pay benefits to the disabled and senior citizens. However, they each have their own rules and regulations.

An individual is entitled to Medicare at the age of 65. Under Medicare, the federal government pays for expenses related to short-term injuries or illnesses, acute care, and rehabilitation. Medicare may only pay for a maximum period of 100 days in a skilled nursing facility, and only the first 20 days may be paid for in full.

Medicaid is a program that is federal, state and locally funded. It provides benefits for those in need of long-term custodial care, particularly for individuals who are financially eligibly and permanently injured, disabled, or ill. Medicaid generally covers most health and medical expenses not covered by Medicare and other forms of insurance.

What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is the physical neglect, abuse or deprivation of care that causes an individual pain, physical harm, or mental suffering. Cases of elder abuse can occur in an assisted living facility or nursing home, or can be caused by a family member or caregiver responsible for giving care. This form of abuse can be penalized in either a civil or criminal manner.

Estate Planning FAQs

What is estate planning?

Estate planning is the process of setting goals, identifying your financial resources in order to meet your set goals, and employing the proper tools in order to achieve those goals. It is taking care of your affairs in order to ensure that your goals and desires for your loved ones with regard to your estate will be carried out in the event of your disability or death.

Why is estate planning important?

It is crucial for an individual to have an estate plan in place because this allows your loved ones to know how you wish to handle your properties and tackle critical healthcare issues in case of an unforeseen event. Without an estate plan, your wishes and desires may not be carried out.

What happens if you don’t have an estate plan?

Without an estate plan, you will be leaving everything to chance. Each state has a legal process in place to determine who inherits the property of a disabled or deceased person who failed to make a valid will. Although these states provide for the orderly distribution of property (even without legal documents or a will), they do not necessarily take into consideration the needs of your loved ones or aim to minimize costs.

What are examples of common estate planning documents?

There are several kinds of documents used for estate planning, such as Last Wills and Testaments, Powers of Attorney, and Revocable Living Trusts.

A Last Will and Testament allows you to name at least one individual or entity to manage your estate in the event of your disability or death, and name at least one guardian for your minor children. This legal document also provides for the transfer of your property in the event of your disability or death.

A Power of Attorney is a document used to appoint a specific attorney to look after your property or financial-related matters on your behalf. An attorney can act for you in various circumstances, such as when you are physically or mentally unable to manage your affairs, or even during an extended business trip.

A Revocable Living Trust, also known as a Living Trust, is a legal document created by you, the Trustmaker, which holds ownership or title to your real assets and property. Living Trusts are excellent tools to deal with difficult issues involving probate, protection from disgruntled heirs, and property management during incapacity.

How often should I review my estate plan?

Ideally, it is best to review your estate plan after there is a significant change in your family or personal situation. Examples of such events are births, graduations, marriages, remarriages, divorces, disabilities, and deaths.

Pennsylvania Probate FAQs

What is probate?

Probate is known as the process of filing and proving a will and having the state recognize the estate’s executor. Various matters are addressed in probate, such as the determination of beneficiaries, gathering of estate assets, payment of unpaid taxes, payment of creditors, appointment of guardians, and distribution of assets. Probate is often seen as time-consuming and costly process.

Are there different types of probate?

Yes, there are two types of probate: formal and informal. Formal probate is a process supervised by the court, while informal probate is an unsupervised process. Specific documents must be filed with the court, however, in order to ensure that the process was done legitimately.

How long is probate?

For many of the estates in Pennsylvania, probate can take anywhere from two weeks until eight months, depending on the complexity of the estate. Sometimes, however, probate can take years to play out. If probate is extended, it is often because of complications or disputes that arise due to other factors other than the actual probate proceeding.

How can probate be avoided?

There are several legal steps you can take to help avoid probate. Common examples include placing assets in a revocable living trust, entering into a joint tenancy agreement, and giving assets and property to your loved ones before passing away.

Are there simpler probate procedures for small estates?

Pennsylvania has a one-step probate procedure specifically for estates with a gross value lower than $25,000. Very few individuals opt to use this procedure, however, because it tends to be more troublesome and time-consuming compared to the regular probate procedure.

How much will it cost to probate an estate?

The total cost of probate depends on numerous factors. These expenses include funeral costs, burial or cremation costs, attorney fees, real estate transfer fees, accounting services, personal representative fees, court fees, copies of the death certificate, and notices to potential heirs and creditors. All these costs must be paid from the estate’s assets before anything can be distributed to the heirs.