On November 14, 2023, The New York Times ran the following article: Facing Financial Ruin as Costs Soar for Elder Care. The story starts with a family tragedy familiar to most Americans. A beloved spouse and parent has dementia, and as the disease progresses, family members can no longer competently serve as caretakers. As a result, they spend their life savings paying for their loved one’s care, and the couple ends up destitute.
Without proper planning, families who work their whole lives and save for retirement are left broke when it comes time for long-term care. If you are advising clients through estate planning and not talking to them about how to avoid this result, you are not serving your clients properly no matter how rich the mahogany leather binder you use to present their trust documents.
It’s that simple.
Read More: How to Pay for Long-Term Care
Most are Unprepared for Long-Term Care Costs
On the same day the New York Times article was published, the Kaiser Family Foundation released its survey of the affordability of long-term care and support services. The survey’s results further illuminate how unprepared Americans are for the cost of care at the end of life.
Some lowlights include:
- Fewer than half of adults have ever had a serious conversation with a loved one about who will care for them should they need long-term care.
- Four in ten say they will not have enough money to pay for their care as they age.
- Half of adults 65 or older have not put any money aside for their long-term care.
- Ninety percent say it would be impossible or very difficult to pay the estimated $100,000 needed for one year at a nursing home.
- Four in ten adults incorrectly believe that Medicare is the primary source of coverage for nursing home care over a long period of time. (Medicaid covers these services.)
Your Responsibility as an Elder Law Attorney
This is certainly bleak, but as an attorney working with families, in any capacity, you have a unique opportunity to shine a light on this problem and offer solutions. Remember, half of adults have never had a conversation about their care. Educating your clients about these concerns is the first step in helping them take control of their care and avoid dying broke.
Using proactive planning techniques, you can help protect your clients’ assets using a mixture of revocable and irrevocable trusts. Coupled with long-term care insurance, trust planning allows your clients to take control of who is providing their care, where it is being received, and how it is being paid.
If you have had these conversations with clients and they are still unwilling to move forward, all is not lost. There are crisis planning strategies that work in every state, which allow you to help clients avoid losing everything they have worked their entire lives to save, even if they are already in a nursing home.
Adding Elder Law to Your Practice
In addition to the protection you are providing for your clients, elder law is an excellent practice area for attorneys. Elder law attorneys tend to be collegial rather than cutthroat as there are simply not enough competent attorneys to handle all the clients who need assistance. Most states have an elder law chapter that publishes practice guides and holds conferences with educational training. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) has national and local chapters to help you meet and collaborate with other attorneys concerned about this crisis and advocate for better policies.
Some tips for getting started in elder law include:
- Join your local chapter of the elder law bar association and the national and state NAELA
- Learn the Medicaid rules and regulations in your state through local conferences or other training platforms like Attorney Access.
- Research the senior service centers in your area and volunteer to get to know the senior community.
- Join local senior-oriented business groups and volunteer to teach legal concepts at business roundtables to stand out as an expert who can be a referral for their clients.
- Hold educational seminars and encourage the people in your community to have conversations with their loved ones about their long-term care.
As our country ages, these problems will only intensify. As an attorney, you have the tools and access to the knowledge to prevent your clients from dying broke.
Jim is responsible for creating, curating, and promoting high-quality content related to the estate planning and elder law industry. He also plays a primary role in designing and maintaining a robust education and content calendar for Attorney Access.