May is Elder Law Month, so today’s post will commemorate this effort to draw the public’s attention to the legal problems of the elderly. Because it serves the population of elders, elder law is a broad practice area and often overlaps or intersects other areas of law practice – like disability law, government benefits, discrimination and criminal law.
Elder law is also a niche practice area because it involves working with elders and an aging population in different areas of the law. Many of us work with elders who have physical challenges, some cognitive impairments and other difficulties, and we are together charting a new course for extended longevity and engaged and dignified elderhood. From my own perspective, working with elders gives me some unique and rewarding opportunities to work with people. I often provide counseling – as many other types of lawyers do, but counseling in elder law typically involves a number of nonlegal considerations which factor into the mix of legal questions which must be addressed. To my mind, the best description of this approach is “holistic.” In short, elder law practice is pretty “touchy feely” and I wouldn’t have it any other way! It demands well-honed listening skills from the attorney/counselor and requires a cultivated compassion for people and the situations in which we can find ourselves. Yes, of course I must mention a requisite fluency with the legal concerns in this area . . . which are frequently changing and evolving and while mostly based on state law, are often impacted by or driven by federal law as well.
The times have changed and many living arrangements of elders reflect this. Legal challenges for elders and their attorneys are ever changing and developing.
Improvements to quality of life for elders abound, but many challenges remain. Some of these include:
- Employment issues and age discrimination
- Housing availability, affordability and appropriateness
- Longevity, retirement savings, social security and financial security
- Health care and self-determination
- Living longer and forging relationships with loved ones
- Dignity and freedom from exploitation and abuse
- Protective proceedings in probate court (in Colorado these are known as guardianship or conservatorship proceedings)
As a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, I have access to helpful information on these topics in the form of NAELA brochures which I am happy to share with readers. Just drop me an email!
On the more philosophical and artistic side, take a look at this ancient mosaic recently uncovered in Turkey which depicts a skeleton and reads “be cheerful and live your life.” A timeless message to be sure – to be grateful to be alive and to have the opportunity to live one’s own life, and not that of another.
© 2016 Barbara Cashman www.DenverElderLaw.org