What is Elder Law?

“Elder Law” is a rare specialty for attorneys. It focuses on the needs of senior Americans who facewhat is elder law? Let us be your elder law attorney the maze of government disability, aging and retirement laws and programs. They need help, lots of help!

The National Association of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), the first professional group, was formed in 1987 to improve the quality of legal services to seniors and people with special needs. Today it has more than 4,500 attorney members, but fewer than 15 Utah attorney members. That’s fewer than 2/10ths of 1% of the 7,500 licensed Utah attorneys — two lawyers in a thousand!

Attorneys who specialize in elder law have the following advantages:

Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning. *

Probably more than 95% of the wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and estate plans written by lawyers in Utah contain provisions which can actually prevent a person from qualifying for Medicaid nursing home assistance. That is because estate plans are written to avoid estate tax which, for 2014, is expected to be paid only by Americans who have a net worth of more than $5,340,000. Few of us need estate tax planning, but more than one-third of us will spend time in a nursing home.

Elder law attorneys are trained to write unique wills, trusts and powers of attorney which consider the high risks of disability and help avoid the expensive disqualifications and “spend downs” of Medicaid.

Asset Protection, Trusts and Arrangements. *

In 2013, Utah passed new laws which allow a person to create a Utah Domestic Asset Protection Trust (DAPT). Many experts believe this new trust is among the most powerful in the nation in protecting assets from future creditors.

In addition to the new Utah Domestic Asset Protection Trust, elder law attorneys have a variety of trusts and other arrangements for qualifying for Utah Medicaid, Veteran’s benefits and other government programs. “Special Needs Trusts,” for example, are very effective in sheltering gifts to a disabled person.

Guardianships, Conservatorships, Powers of Attorney, and Utah Advance Health Care Directives. *

Planning for dementia and other progressive diseases is a special interest and unique skill of elder law attorneys. Guardianships (ending a person’s ability to make life decisions) and conservatorships (ending a person’s ability to make financial decisions) can destroy the dignity of a person who only sometimes needs help. Elder law attorneys know how to plan for a gradual decline in physical and mental abilities. Powers of Attorney and Utah Advance Health Care Directives (a living will combined with a medical power of attorney) are important in caring for a Utah Senior.

Probate and Probate Litigation. *

Elder law attorneys have special training and experience in Utah probate, the court process for wrapping up the affairs of a person who has died. In Utah, special procedures and rules apply to probate. A Utah Elder Law attorney can help families gain control of the affairs of a deceased person as quickly as possible.

“Probate litigation” refers to court disputes and lawsuits disputing Utah probates, including disputes about wills, inheritances of people who left no wills, appointments of Personal Representatives (executors), accountings and many other issues which arise after a person dies.

Trust Lawsuits. *

Some elder law attorneys, like those in our law firm, will file and defend lawsuits concerning trusts, removal of a trustee, improper accountings and misuse of trust funds.

Disability Planning. *

Call a hundred attorneys in the phone book and you will be lucky to find one who knows how to help you qualify for Medicaid, Social Security Disability, Medicare, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Call one elder law attorney and you will have all the help you need.

Medical Malpractice. *

Because seniors require more care, they have a much higher risk of medical malpractice. Few attorneys in Utah are trained to file these malpractice cases and even fewer are willing to accept elder abuse or nursing home cases. A good elder law attorney, who also does litigation (lawsuits), can help you with these complicated claims.

Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation of the Elderly. *

Elder law attorneys have special training to recognize signs of elder abuse and to use Utah’s legal system to protect Utah seniors. Some elder law attorneys, like those in our law firm, also have special training in financial abuse of the elderly.  In Utah, financial abuse is most often committed by a family member or caretaker who has access to the senior’s financial accounts and records. The financial abuse may be a result of dishonesty with powers of attorney, theft, fraud, coercion or threats, or “financial exploitation”  which in Utah occurs when a person exploits the trust, the mental condition or the physical condition of a vulnerable adult.

Consult a Utah elder law expert. *

If you have a heart disease you don’t consult a dentist. If you have a car with transmission problems you don’t take it to a muffler shop. If you are a Utah senior with legal problems, which expert do want to help you?


by Jack Helgesen.  © 2013 UtahElderLaw.com

Helgesen, Houtz & Jones $$(801) 544-5306