What is Elder Law?

Elder Law Defined

What is Elder Law? Elder Law is an extension and refinement of estate planning. In addition to addressing general planning needs like wills, trusts and medical and financial powers of attorney, an Elder Law attorney can help you decide what type of care options exist for your older loved one and how to pay for that care.


Why does it matter to you? It matters to you because using a competent Elder Law attorney can seriously reduce the stress you experience as a caregiver of an older adult or disabled person. Unlike many other expenditures in life, an Elder Law attorney can save you money. As a client or eldercare professional you know the tremendous costs, both emotional and financial, of caring for an older adult or disabled loved one.


Thirty years ago most people died when they were in their early sixties. There were no “nursing homes.” There were “convalescent homes” for those old and frail seventy five year old methuselahs. Those people were often physically frail but the entire concept of cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer Disease did not exist. There were no “levels” of care. There was little option as to how that care was administered or where it was received.


In 1992, in the Philadelphia Metropolitan Area (which has one of the highest concentration of older adults in the nation) there were almost no Assisted Living Residences. Today there are in excess of 150 in an area that includes only the Southeastern tip of Pennsylvania. They each offer differing levels of care and services, different pricing, different connections with other forms of long term care services and different methods of accepted payment.


Home care, personal care, adult day care, assisted living, skilled and intermediate nursing care, dementia care, continuing care retirement communities and hospice. Most do not understand all of the forms of care and how they interact. Determining which care level is appropriate for your loved one is very confusing with facilities providing different but often overlapping level of care. Some accept Medicare, some accept Medicaid, some accept neither or both.


Cognitive impairment can strike people as young as their 50s. It comes in many forms, not just short term memory loss (as is common in older adults). It may come from diabetes related strokes, brain injuries, mental retardation, excessive alcohol consumption and other non age-related causes. Regardless of the form or cause, cognitive impairment can create severe emotional and financial issues for a family.

85+ is the fastest growing age group and the group most likely to suffer from memory and cognitive impairment. Do you know what to do if your impaired loved one needs help but has not granted a Power of Attorney (or even what one is)? What to do if the loved one is being taken advantage or is not taking their medications appropriately? If they do not recognize the need for assistance?

The average monthly cost of caring for a resident in a Philadelphia area nursing home is well over $9,000.00 per month. That is neither the highest or the lowest in the nation. It is, however, an amount that can quickly bankrupt a family and destroy the quality of life for the spouse who is still healthy and living in the community. It can decimate whatever legacy you want to leave to your children, friends, family and the charitable beneficiaries of your choice.

There are legal tools that can be used to protect the assets that you worked for so that your spouse and loved ones are protected, and yet still allow you to obtain excellent quality care.

If you know the answers to the questions posed here, you do not need an Elder Law attorney. If you need one, do not delay. This is one area in life where the cost of delay is most certainly high.