Elder law is a broad practice area dedicated to meeting the legal needs of seniors and persons with disabilities. Encompassing a variety of matters, elder law addresses the financial, health care, and related concerns of people as they grow older. If you or a loved one have questions about the topics described below, reach out to Patrick, Harper & Dixon, LLP today.
What Is Elder Law?
An individual’s legal concerns change as they age. Elder law is devoted to handling the unique needs of senior citizens and the disabled, especially concerning government benefits, health care, and financial matters. Some issues, such as wills, trusts, and powers of attorney, are separately addressed by estate planning[CP1] . Our firm approaches five specific areas under the umbrella of elder law:
- Social Security Disability Income (SSDI)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Medicaid Planning
- Special Needs Trusts
- Guardianship & Incompetency Proceedings
Helping You With Your Social Security Benefits
For many older Americans, Social Security provides a financial lifeline to help them pay their bills. But the Social Security Administration (SSA) is a massive bureaucracy that can, and does, make mistakes. It’s not easy to take on the SSA to receive the benefits you’ve earned, but a knowledgeable Social Security lawyer can help.
Some people simply want to understand how much they are entitled to receive. The amount is affected by such factors as when you decide to retire and how much you have worked over the years. The closer you are to the retirement age (67) before deciding to retire, and the more you’ve earned in your life, the more Social Security you will collect.
Finally, some Social Security recipients want to know whether other money they bring in will affect their benefits. You are allowed to earn up to a certain amount of income through work, but can start to lose benefits if you earn more. You are also allowed to receive pension income, although some government pensions can affect your benefits.
A Social Security benefits attorney can assist with the following issues, among others:
- Helping you apply for and receive the benefits which are due to you
- Requesting any retroactive Social Security benefits which you are owed
- Explaining the amount of work you’re allowed to do without affecting your benefits
- Discussing how pension income might affect the amount of your Social Security
- Helping you withdraw your early retirement request if you decide to go back to work[CP2]
Social Security Disability Benefits
Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) is operated by the Social Security Administration (SSA). If you can no longer work due to an injury or illness, you may be eligible for SSDI benefits.
Applying for disability is no easy task. SSA uses a complicated set of rules which governs how much individuals can receive for their disabilities. The challenge is proving that your condition qualifies and that you are awarded the disability rating to which you are entitled. A skilled attorney can both help you apply for benefits and appeal an adverse decision made by Social Security.
Our Social Security Disability lawyers can represent you in the following ways:
- Explaining the disability application process and timeline
- Helping you gather the medical documentation and work records you need for your claim
- Contacting Social Security to make sure your claim keeps moving forward
- Ensuring you receive the appropriate disability rating
- Appealing a rejected claim and representing you through the appeals process
How Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Can Help You
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a different program than SSDI. While payroll taxes fund SSDI, SSI benefits are paid for by general tax revenue. The federal program is intended to assist individuals who are disabled, blind, or elderly, and who have little or no income. SSI recipients are therefore often eligible for various public assistance programs such as food stamps and Medicaid.
To qualify for SSI, an applicant must meet the following requirements:
- Be legally disabled or over the age of 65
- Be a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident
- Have insufficient income and assets
SSI provides recipients with monthly income to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. The actual amount of benefits changes annually based on the Consumer Price Index. Our knowledgeable SSI attorneys can assist with:
- Reviewing your eligibility for SSI and related programs
- Discussing the amount of benefits you may receive
- Collecting your personal information and helping you apply
- Making sure you receive the amount of benefits you deserve
- Appealing a rejected claim for SSI
Elder Law: Medicaid Planning To Help With Your Long-Term Needs
Medicaid is a joint federal-state program that assists low-income individuals with meeting their long-term health care needs. Our Medicaid planning lawyers are able to work with you through all aspects of the application process. We can assist you with collecting documentation and submitting your Medicaid application. Or the work might be more complex, including restructuring an applicant’s finances to ensure they meet the eligibility criteria.
As with SSI and SSDI, applying for Medicaid can be difficult. But even more challenging is making sure the applicant meets the strict income and asset eligibility rules. An individual who earns or owns too much, or who gives assets away, won’t qualify for Medicaid. With proper Medicaid planning, we can help individuals qualify for benefits while protecting and preserving assets for their spouse and children.
Here are some of the ways a Medicaid planning lawyer can help you:
- Collecting the necessary documents to apply for Medicaid
- Preparing and submitting the Medicaid application
- Implementing strategies to protect your residence and other real estate
- Establishing Medicaid-compliant asset protection trusts
- Helping you and your family prepare for long-term health care costs
Special Needs Trusts For All Ages
Individuals who want to leave money or property to a loved one with a disability need to be careful in doing so. Without proper planning, these assets could jeopardize the government benefits to which these individuals are entitled by violating the income and asset limits for those programs. Fortunately, special needs trusts can be established to avoid this problem.
Rather than leaving property directly to a disabled person and risking the loss of disability or Medicaid benefits, you can establish a special needs trust to which you leave the assets. You can select a trustee who will have control over the property and spend money on behalf of the person in need. An attorney will work with you to create a trust, explain how the funds can be used, and help you take care of your loved one into the future.
Additionally, we can assist disabled persons under age 65 who receive an inheritance, settlement, or other money or property establish a self-settled special needs trust so that they can maintain their benefits eligibility.
Elder Law: Legal Assistance With Guardianship And Incompetency Proceedings
If a loved one is no longer able to care for him- or herself due to advanced age or disability, it may be time to consider whether that person is incompetent and in need of a guardian.
A court hearing will be necessary to determine an individual’s incompetency and whether you should be appointed as that person’s guardian. You will have to file a Petition for Adjudication of Incompetence and Application for Appointment of Guardian or Limited Guardian asking the court to declare your loved one incompetent. The petition will explain the specific reasons you believe the person is incompetent and in need of a guardian.
From there, a hearing will take place to consider your request and evaluate the person’s medical and psychological condition. It is not always readily apparent that someone is incompetent, and he or she may retain an attorney to counter your petition. If the court declares the individual legally incompetent, it will appoint a guardian and define his or her duties and powers.
Our firm is experienced with guardianship and incompetency proceedings and can help with:
- Filing your petition and arguing it in court
- Presenting the evidence and arguments necessary to support your petition
- Calling upon expert witnesses who can testify in court
- Explaining to the court why you should be appointed as guardian
Contact Our Hickory Elder Law Attorney
The elder law attorneys of Patrick, Harper & Dixon are experienced in helping seniors and persons with disabilities obtain the necessary resources to plan for their long-term health care and financial needs. Contact us to get started today.