By Jennifer Sitterley
For many, legal planning may feel intimidating. In reality, creating a plan on your terms for your legacy is one of the most empowering things that adults of any age can do to protect their wishes and their family’s peace during health decline or death. The month of May is designated as Elder Law Month by the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). This annual observance is a great reminder to embrace estate planning and the peace of mind it can bring to families.
Elder law is an area of legal practice that focuses on complex issues that impact older adults and their loved ones. This area includes estate planning, asset protection, long-term care planning, probate administration, trust administration, and guardianships.
Estate planning represents an individual or couple’s unique story and the legacy they wish to create. It is incredibly important to consult with qualified, trustworthy legal professionals experienced in elder law to help protect these wishes in the most effective way. Early planning also provides peace of mind and empowers older adults to have control over their affairs, even during times of incapacity.
Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) is a designation from the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF), which is the only national organization permitted by the American Bar Association to certify practitioners in the practice areas of Elder and Special Needs Law. There are approximately 500 CELAs in the United States and only a few dozen with the CELA credential practicing in Ohio. These professionals can offer affordable and flexible estate planning and asset protection services to ensure the creation of a comprehensive legal plan that meets their unique needs and circumstances. These professionals are also guaranteed to be in good standing with their Bar Associations, are peer-review and nominated, and uphold the highest ethical standards in their practice.
Legal documents like wills and trusts outline how assets will be distributed after death. Wills specify who will inherit assets under court administration, while trusts provide more detailed instructions on how assets will be managed and distributed, often with the goal of minimizing potential estate taxes and avoiding probate. Designating a power of attorney grants a specific person the legal power to make financial and healthcare decisions for another if they become incapacitated. Advance directives are legal documents that outline medical treatment preferences and end-of-life care wishes.
An elder law attorney can also provide legal representation in a guardianship or conservatorship hearing, which involves appointing someone to manage the affairs of an elderly person who is unable to make decisions for themselves due to incapacity or disability. Additionally, knowledge about government benefits such as social security and Veterans’ benefits as well as issues like Medicare and long-term care planning can provide guidance when navigating the complexities of the system and handling any potential hurdles or state-specific rules and regulations.
Planning for the future helps ensure older adults can obtain the best quality of life and protect their independence while preserving family assets for as long as possible. During Elder Law month, we celebrate the work being done to advise and protect older adults and their loved ones to ensure all needs are met as they continue to progress through life.
Jennifer H. Sitterley, founder of Sitterley Law, LLC, is elder law certified through the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF) and the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA) to provide a wide array of services including estate planning, wills and trusts, probate, special needs, guardianships, asset protection, and long-term care planning. Learn more about Sitterley Law at www.sitterleylaw.com.