Elder Law Is A Specialized Field Designed To Help Seniors

We love our pets and they love us.
(CAPE COD) People live longer today than ever before. This has transformed relationships between parents, children and grandchildren. It has also fueled the growth of a new legal specialty, elder law, a specialized legal field designed to help seniors.

The issues presented by aging on Cape Cod and elsewhere combine financial, healthcare, housing, family and legal concerns with worries about children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and sometimes our closest companions, our pets.

Considerations involve preserving hard earned assets, selecting proper surrogate decision makers, choosing the best assisted living facility or nursing home, ensuring proper health care and proper health coverage -- and these are just a few challenges facing the elderly and their families.

Ideally we develop plans to deal with these issues before they arrive - it maximizes our ability to enjoy the later years and ensure the children and grandchildren (not a nursing home or hospital) receive the legacy we leave behind. Even though many people do not develop such plans, they can still benefit from the advice of an elder law attorney concerning estate, probate and inheritance issues, guardianship, Medicaid Spend Downs and “Look Backs” and sadly, elder abuse.


Elder law is not merely an extension of a general legal practice, although it can be. It is a multigenerational practice which involves the attorney, “the client” who is the elder,


  • How long have you been practicing?
  • What percentage of your practice is elder law?
  • Do you emphasize a particular area of elder law?
  • What is your experience regarding the specific matter we have?
  • How much elder law training have you had?
  • Do you belong to a national Elder Law organization?
  • and usually with the elder’s adult children (sometimes in their 70's) and occasionally grandchildren (in their 30's and 40's). Among the attorney’s many challenges is the need to recognize who, among the many individuals sitting across the table, is the client.

    "Elder Law" is a specialty, but there is not a specific definition of what skills, education and experience the attorney must have. There are efforts to establish national certification programs to identify lawyers with enhanced knowledge, skills, experience and proficiency to properly call themselves an elder law attorney. There is no reason why a good, trusted family attorney could not competently handle most of these issues, without calling themselves an elder law attorney.

    Generally, the areas of expertise you should expect would be;

    • health and long-term care planning, including insurance;
    • public benefits, including Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, MassHealth;
    • surrogate decision-making, including powers of attorney, health care proxies and guardianship;
    • abuse, neglect, or exploitation of the elderly;
    • issues of competence and legal capacity; and
    • the conservation, disposition and administration of the estate, including wills, trust and probate.
    In advising about these matters the elder law attorney must pay attention to the applicable tax consequences of the action, or the need for more sophisticated tax expertise.


    The extra, added ingredients that make a good elder law attorney may become apparent on the first office visit - they will take into consideration the fact that 'the client', your Mom (or Dad) may have difficulty hearing and understanding, be visually impaired or have difficulty expressing their desires.


    Disclosure: My sister, Joanna Christensen, is an elder law attorney in Ware, MA. Here is her web site. She has a low key, personal approach.

    On the Cape I know a few through family, real estate and community activities. In no particular order;
    • Martha Ramsey, Ramsey & Hanesian, 508 790-4177,
    • Laura McDowell-May, 508 385-5009,
    • Bob Reddy, 508 457-9025,
    • Rob Chamberlain, Rubin, Rudman, Chamberlain & Marsh, 508 362-6262,
    • Haddleton & Associates, 508 771-3132
    • .
    There are more in the local Yellow Pages, or on the web. Keep in mind that some attorneys have a business with big ads, TV, radio, etc., and some have small practices that go by word of mouth. You need to find someone you, and more importantly, your Mom, are comfortable with.

    Important small things to pick up in the office would be efforts to eliminate background noise; the attorney speaking slowly and enunciating clearly; using plain English and avoiding legalese; using written, large type documents when possible; having a straight edge and magnifying glass handy; and, of course, patience.

    It goes without saying that the attorney should be sensitive to the fact that age does not equal incompetence. Listen for 'speaking down to' or patronizing you or your Mom.

    It is common practice for the attorney to ask all but the elder to leave the interview. It is part of their ethical obligation to ascertain the elder’s wishes and sort out the desires of the children from those of the parent. They must determine whether all the children are participating or if some are excluded, and the underlying factual situation, in order to avoid claims of 'undue influence' in the future.

    It is important for you to realize that you may have unresolved issues with your Mom. Just because you have assumed the obligations of 'caretaker' does not automatically make you privy her real wishes. It can be a painful slap in the face to you when the person you care for on a continuing basis tells an attorney that your younger brother or sister represents their real interests, but the attorney should respect that information and act accordingly.

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