With the greying of the population, there has been a dramatic increase in the need for legal services among seniors and their families. Coping with the difficult decisions that arise can be greatly aided by the wise council of an experienced Elder Law Attorney.
In an attempt to shed some light on the subject, Roll recently spoke with RosaLee Charpentier of Family Advocates in Kingston, NY, who kindly agreed to respond to a few questions.
Firstly, RosaLee, can you tell us: What is Elder Law?
It’s an area of an attorney’s practice that focuses on legal issues affecting older persons?
Can you give us some examples?
The list is long. I can start by saying that it includes legal issues relating to the multitude of government, insurance and assistance programs serving older people. Some have income requirements, including Social Security, SSI, SNAP, HEAP, VA Benefits, Temporary Assistance, STAR, Medicare and Medicaid. There are others, of course, and you have to be clear about what the acronyms mean. It also includes future-care planning and advanced directives, each containing several important legal topics ranging from long-term care, asset and income protection, to estate planning, wills, health care proxies and the NYS Durable Power of Attorney. Finally, it includes the same legal issues confronted by everyone: consumer issues, fraud and hospital patients’ rights.
That’s quite a list. What do you focus on in your practice?
All of it. Because I’m a lawyer, I start with an inquiry into why the person has come to me: who referred them, what questions do they have and why do they think they need legal advise. Then, I like to do a brief assessment of the individual’s situation in several areas; health and personal well-being, socialization and family contacts, employment and economic status and hopes or dreams for the future. After that it’s really about providing information and advice on specific topics of interest or need.
What needs to be done to protect oneself or one’s loved one when getting older and at what age?
That’s really a two-fold question. First, we have to determine who is being represented by the lawyer; the young person who is concerned about the senior or the senior citizen? The answers are often quite different depending on whose interest the lawyer is serving, especially when it comes to asset protection, long-term care and estate planning. Your second inquiry relating to when does Elder Law become relevant to you is answered by simply saying “it depends”. Some things, such as advanced directives, health care proxies and wills, can be appropriately addressed at any age. We are all subject to life’s twists and turns and having prepared yourself legally for such things never hurts. It’s the crystal ball we’re lacking but, from a legal point of view, whenever you have something to protect, you are best-advised to be ready and plan ahead. I made my first will when I bought my first house. I had just turned thirty. I’ve changed it since then to correspond with new needs and circumstances. Other things, like understanding Medicare and Medicare buy-in programs, become relevant when we’re in our sixties and generally around retirement. It never hurts to get advice early, be thoughtful and prepared. Waiting until the last minute nearly always produces a sad or misdirected outcome.
Where does one look for Elder Law advice?
There are lots of options and more popping up every day. You can certainly use the internet or yellow pages to find a full range of private attorneys. You can call your local or State Bar Associations that all offer lawyer referral and information services; sometimes there is a small fee for a first consultation. You can call your County or State Offices for the Aging. These agencies offer a great source of information for anyone interested in Elder Law and may even have an attorney on-staff to answer basic questions or provide direct advice; each county is a little different.
And finally, RosaLee, how does one find you?
Yes, Thank you, I work at the non-profit agency Family Advocates, Inc., located in the YWCA at 209 Clinton Avenue, Kingston, NY. It’s our goal and mission to provide individualized legal advice and representation to senior citizens in the Hudson Valley with an emphasis on independence and empowerment. I look forward to helping anyone with legal questions or needs relating to older New Yorkers. I can be reached at (845) 339‑8080 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The featured image is by renowned illustrator Elwood H. Smith
RosaLee Charpentier is Executive Director and Lead Attorney of Family Advocates. She has been practicing law since 1986. It was Ms. Charpentier’s vision that lead to the creation of Family Advocates in 1995.