The "graying of America" has had a dramatic impact on the practice
of law, particularly in California, which has the nation's largest elderly
population. There are over 31 million Americans 65 years of age or older,
and this age group is one of the fastest-growing segments of the population.
The elderly and their families have major concerns as they confront
the impacts of declining health and diminished capacity on their autonomy,
health care options, management and preservation of their property, and
their vulnerability to abuse.
Many elderly find themselves in need of legal services for the first
time in their lives.
Accustomed to being self-reliant, many become, after retirement, dependent on highly complex entitlement and benefit programs, such as Medicare and Medi-Cal.
Elder Law has also been defined not so much by its special skills,
but by the character of the population it serves. In other words, an attorney
specializing in elder law advises older people as a population regarding
the wide range of issues associated with the aging process.
It is also a practice uniquely characterized by family participation.
The scope of law included in the practice of elder law ranges from the complexities of traditional estate, tax, and retirement planning to preserve wealth to the complexities of Medi-Cal planning to avoid impoverishment of a well spouse when an ill spouse must reside in a nursing home.
It includes advocacy to protect the rights of elderly people facing
age discrimination in the community, or abuse in an institutional setting,
and it includes counseling family member clients on options for surrogate
financial management and health care decision making and for obtaining
and financing appropriate medical or custodial care for a critically ill
or incapacitated elder.
Very often, multiple areas of law are applicable to a single client.
The client who seeks an injunction against abuse may require a new durable
power of attorney or a representative payee for social security benefits,
or may need counseling regarding home health care benefits and other resources
necessary for the client to continue to live independently in the community.
An attorney well-versed in elder law can, in many instances, circumvent many potentially harmful situations.
The elderly are a segment of the population particularly subject to various forms of abuse and neglect. Physical infirmity or mental impairments often place the elderly in a dependent and vulnerable position; at the same time, these impairments may leave them incapable of asking for help and protection.
Even those who are still relatively independent are preyed on financially by an army of unscrupulous people.
Beyond this, many elders become involved in situations in which they are easily swindled, such as home improvement contracts and mortgage fraud. At the same time that the elderly are most in need of legal advocacy, they are least likely to benefit from the protections that the civil tort system affords to others. This is where Dudugjian & Maxey with its expertise in elder law can be of invaluable assistance.
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