What is an elder law attorney?
The dictionary definition of an “elder law attorney” is simple: an advocate for older people, and their loved ones.
But talk to Garrett Gummer, a longtime Bucks County elder law expert, and you’ll get a much more nuanced answer. It’s a role that covers everything from estate planning to will preparation to powers of attorney and healthcare powers of attorney to setting up trusts.
“If your parent or grandparent has to go into a nursing home, we help protect their nest egg,” he says. “There are ways to do that if you properly plan for it.
“If a loved one dies, we help you administer their estate if you’re appointed as the executor. Or if they haven’t done a proper power of attorney, sometimes it’s necessary for us to petition the court to have you or another family member appointed guardian.”
Two types of people
Gummer said there are typically two types of people who need elder law expertise and visit his firm.
The first are people who are there to plan. They have an idea about the types of services they might need, but they haven’t gotten their documents in order.
“There’s no stress there,” Gummer says. These people aren’t dealing with serious illnesses or are in the beginning stages of dementia and still able to make their own decisions.
The second type: “People who have had a tragedy. Mom fell, and now she’s in a nursing home.”
These are people who have to scramble to get their estates in order, a process that becomes more complicated without the proper power of attorney in place.
“We’ve seen people who have gone to general practice attorneys, jacks of all trades, which would be fine in most circumstances,” Gummer said.
But these attorneys don’t always put the proper language in power of attorney documents to allow the designated agent to gift assets in order to protect them during the Medicaid planning process.
“There are many lawyers out there that, unless they do elder law, don’t understand the Medicaid planning process,” Gummer says. “They may have heard of it, but they haven’t studied it and they don’t know it. If you’re a healthy person who at 50 goes to your corner law office to get your documents done, that may be fine. You may never have an issue.”
But why leave it to chance, he argues.
“If you’re a general practice lawyer, this morning you may be in a hearing for a support action in domestic court, and this afternoon going to a real estate settlement, and tomorrow morning going to a workman’s comp hearing,” Gummer says. “They don’t focus on just one area.”
He likens it to the difference between a family doctor and a specialist.
“I’m having an ear problem, and I go to the family doctor, and he thinks he knows what it is, but he says if it doesn’t clear up in 10 days, you need to see an ENT,” Gummer says.
It’s a job that requires a “holistic approach,” he adds, a need to understand issues such as taxes, Medicaid planning, estate planning, and working with clients with very specific, often esoteric, needs.
Are you seeking an experienced elder law attorney in Bucks County? Visit the offices of Yorkway Law. Whether you need to prepare a will, a living will, or power of attorney, or need help in Medicaid planning, our attorneys can make sure you and your loved ones are protected.