ELDER LAW: THE TIME IS NOW!!!

By: BENJAMIN D. ECKMAN, ESQ.
Elder Law Attorney

Clients often ask me to explain how “Elder Law” differs from traditional Estate Planning. Whereas the estate planner is concerned with the client’s assets, the Elder Law practitioner counsels the client on how to live his or her remaining years in dignity. Thus, Elder Law concentrates primarily on the person, the elder, and the type of life he or she desires, and only secondarily on his or her estate. After the Elder Law attorney and client complete their work, legal documents are drafted, tax considerations are analyzed, and a plan to protect the elder’s estate is implemented.

To protect oneself and one’s family in the event of death, disease or disaster, every senior citizen should have each of the following documents: Last Will & Testament, Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, and Living Will.

A Last Will & Testament is a legal document that takes effect upon the death of the will maker. If properly drafted and executed, the will is probated and the decedent’s assets distributed according to his or her wishes. It is strongly recommended that you periodically update your will.

A Power of Attorney allows a principal to grant authority to his or her agent to manage the financial and personal affairs of the principal in the event the principal becomes incapacitated. A “durable” power of attorney takes effect immediately, and ends at the death of the principal. Spending a few moments now while competent can save thousands of dollars in court costs later when an action for guardianship is brought.

A Health Care Proxy authorizes someone to make decisions about your medical care if you yourself are unable to do so. The person you appoint is your “agent,” or “proxy.” It is usually coupled with a Living Will, which allows you to state your personal wishes about your medical care in the event that you can no longer make your own medical decisions. If properly drafted, these documents can minimize family squabbles and will largely reduce the amount of controversy surrounding your medical treatment.

Elder Law attorneys are also called upon to protect life long savings from rising nursing home costs. On average, nursing home expenses in the northeast exceed $90,000 a year. The primary resources available to help pay for these skyrocketing costs include: long term care insurance, private pay, Medicare, and Medicaid. Proper estate planning is critical to ensure that you qualify for government programs like Medicaid. If so, your assets will remain protected, and can instead be distributed to your spouse, children, or favorite charity.

The legal issues affecting senior citizens are numerous and complex. More than ever before, it is clear that personal responsibility and careful planning will be the hallmarks of a successful estate plan. Therefore, it is critical that you choose a law firm that is both qualified and experienced in Elder Law & Estate Planning. Only by discussing these issues with an experienced Elder Law Attorney can you ensure that your assets will pass to your family members and not the government or nursing home.

Benjamin D. Eckman, Esq. concentrates his practice on Elder Law & Estate Planning. Elder law is intended to broadly assist “extended living”. An elder law practitioner provides the legal information necessary for persons whose lives will extend or have already extended beyond the time when all children are usually out of the house and when regular employment ceases. After the elder law attorney and client complete their work, legal documents have been drafted, tax considerations have been analyzed, and a plan to protect the elder’s estate has been implemented.

Benjamin D. Eckman’s practice focuses on Estate Planning & Elder Law – legal issues facing senior citizens. Benjamin D. Eckman received his Bachelor’s Degree in Business/Accounting from Touro College and his law degree from Seton Hall University School of Law. He is a member of the New York State Bar Association, the New Jersey State Bar Association, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, the Elder Law Section and Real Property, Probate and Trust Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association, the Union County Bar Association, Passaic County Bar Association and the Bergen County Bar Association. He can be reached at (973) 709-0909, (908) 206-1000 or (201) 263-9161.