There is an opportunity for the lawyer to fill an expanded role when representing an older client with long term care needs. It is especially critical for the lawyer to be prepared to help older clients cope with the many complicated legal and financial and health care issues that confront them when they suffer a long term disabling illness. These clients are extremely vulnerable. They need the lawyer’s help, often desperately.
To be able to respond effectively and thoroughly to the needs of these clients, we, as lawyers, must be able to move beyond the traditional legal realms of estate and tax planning, and advise our clients on Medicare, Medicaid, home care options, veterans benefits, Social Security, long-term care insurance, assisted living health care decision making, financial management, accessing the network of public and private services and programs which can be so important to families struggling to cope with a long term illness, and so on, and so on.
And to be fully effective for their clients, lawyers also need to be willing to continue their active representation of the client after a nursing home admission. We need not limit our function to preparing legal documentation and Medicaid applications and related planning. Lawyers can benefit clients who have become nursing home residents by advocating for them, protecting their rights, and helping to ensure that they receive quality and compassionate care in the nursing home.
Sounds pretty overwhelming, doesn’t it. Working through the maze of issues can certainly overwhelm a family who hasn’t been down the nursing home road before. The lawyer is in a key position to help the client and family recognize and deal with all these issues, or to fumble the ball.
If the lawyer is consulted by a family member who has been told that “someone needs to have power of attorney for Dad” and the lawyer does nothing more in response than to prepare the legal document, a great opportunity has been lost. The need for a power of attorney was most likely just the tip of the iceberg of problems facing that family.
But, if the lawyer is alert to and able to respond to the wide range of underlying problems facing the family which is struggling with long term care it is possible to do a tremendous amount of good for that family. This is a situation where we may have the opportunity to shoulder some of our client’s burden, and empower them and help them gain access to the services and benefits they need to retain their financial security and personal autonomy and maximize the quality of their remaining lives.
Clients who are in need of long term care and their families usually arrive at the lawyer’s office carrying a tremendous bag full of wide ranging worries and needs. And it is a really demanding challenge for the attorney to be able to respond effectively in this situation.
As lawyers, we can’t make mom or dad well again, but if we are willing and knowledgeable and committed we can guide our clients through the maze of issues confronting them, and lift a lot of burdens off of them, and do a lot of good for people who are particularly powerless and dependent. The challenges for the lawyer are great, but so are the opportunities and the potential satisfactions.