Above: Certified Elder Law Attorneys receive specialized training in elder-law issues. Photo by Pixabay.

A 2009 Pew Research study suggests to its readers, “Getting old isn’t nearly as bad as people think it will be — nor is it quite as good.”

The question on many minds is: How does one make aging better?

“Aging is a fact — how we handle it is up to us,” writes Lewis Walker, a financial life-planning strategist at Capital Insight Group in Norcross, Ga.

Aging brings challenges, but it also brings changes in the way people live their lives. And those changes can present new legal and financial challenges. Many older adults find, perhaps for the first times in their lives, they need help from experts to navigate their new legal and financial situations.

Elder care is a specialty

There are things we can do to make aging smoother for ourselves and our families, especially in the area of legal preparedness. A good first step is to look for qualified professionals. Estate planning with the right financial advisors is important, as is selecting the right attorney to help with life’s final plans.

The Leonard brothers, Dave and Joe, learned that when their father faced making end-of-life plans. He had done well following multiple cancer treatments but was then told “there’s nothing more to do,” from his oncologist.

Dave and Joe said the physician recommended palliative and hospice care. The family knew what was coming.

At the time, one son was in Mississippi and the other in Scotland. Their sister, a full-time veterinarian, lived in Virginia. It was hard for them to know where to start. Both sons were grown with adult children as they faced helping their father’s with end-of-life plans from afar.

Their mother had died several months earlier, and their dad had been her full-time caretaker. Now what?

Dave, the older brother, said, “While we didn’t really expect any legal problems, we didn’t really know what to expect.” He said he thought it would be good to have a lawyer help them through probate.

“I had read a book on being the executor after dad told me I had been appointed,” he said. “I saw enough potential stuff that led me to think I would need some legal help.”

They had been unable to find a copy of their father’s will in his home. When they went in for their free consultation, the elder care attorney located a copy of the will on file at another lawyer’s office.

“That brought peace of mind. It was especially helpful to our dad,” Dave said. That was when he knew that they were taking the right first step.

“Understanding probate was an entirely different kind of education,” he said. He and his brother Joe went to the lawyer’s office a couple of times to update themselves and ask specific questions, along with their sister who drove to their father’s home.

“It was like having an accountant for taxes versus doing it yourself,” Dave said.

CELA: a special kind of attorney

pixabay scales of justice

A certified elder law attorney (CELA) has received specific training in elder-law issues. The title “certified specialist” is an important qualification. If an attorney says he or she is a certified specialist but he or she has not been appropriately certified, the attorney may be liable for false and misleading advertising.

According to Danielle C. Humphrey, a CELA with Hurley Elder Care, there are only 12 CELAs in the State of Georgia — and Hurley Elder Care has two of them.

In fact, there are fewer than 400 CELAs in the U.S., according to the CELA website. Attorney Miles Hurley, owner and CELA at Hurley Elder Care, values social workers and/or nurses as part of their evaluation team.

“As a nurse, I am able to assess my client’s physical and mental abilities,” said Dawn Houston, RN, who has been with Hurley Elder Care since 2007. “I also make recommendations as to the type and amount of care a senior may need.”

Finding help

Elder law attorney Kelley Napier, with Brannon Napier Elder Law, LLC, explained that this type of help is required when dealing with incapacity, too.

“Where we live and how we are cared for at the ends of our lives is of the utmost importance,” said Napier. “Adults want to make sure that their appointed agents have all the needed powers to care for them when the time comes.”

Napier recently worked with a healthy wife — a spry 76-year-old — she said. However, the client’s husband was struggling with Parkinson’s disease. He was several inches taller than his wife, and he outweighed her.

Unfortunately, the husband’s disease had progressed to the point that he could not walk nor assist in his own self-preservation in an emergency. After a series of falls at home, their care team encouraged a move for the husband. Napier said she was able to help the wife understand the legal and financial consequences of the various options.

“I explained the self-preservation regulations for moving into a facility that is licensed as either a personal care home or assisted living community,” said Napier.

She also helped them understand which expenses were covered by Medicare and which were not, and she offered positive support so the wife could remain at home.

To live independently, older adults need to function physically, cognitively (that is, to think clearly) and financially (to manage their money, pay bills on time, etc.). The best time to make plans for any future help is when everything is functioning well.

In her recent book, “Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age,” psychologist Mary Pipher writes, “To be happy at this junction, [people] cannot just settle for being a diminished version of our younger selves. We must change the ways we think and behave.”

One way to change our way of thinking is to plan for the expected — and unexpected.

The State Bar of Georgia offers the following guidance when seeking legal help.

  • Ask friends, teachers, employer, co-workers, minister, relatives, neighbors or anyone you trust which lawyer(s) they have used and if they did a good job.
  • Many online resources are available for selecting a lawyer in your geographic area and in the area of expertise you need.
  • The State Bar of Georgia does not refer individual lawyers, but some local bars do offer a referral service. Check the telephone directory in your area to see if there is one.
  • Go to your local public library and ask for the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory or view the directory online at martindale.com. It lists most lawyers and their area of practice within your community, the state of Georgia and the United States.
  • Ask other lawyers.

Judi Kanne is a public health communications consultant and contributing writer to Atlanta Senior Life.