Elder law, or senior law, is a group of laws whose main goal is to promote the interests and protect the welfare of the elderly. The enactment of elder laws is in recognition of the fact that the population of older individuals are increasing through the years. This means, the federal government and the state will be facing numerous issues related to ageing. In the United States, "elderly" is legally defined as people over the age of 60 years old.
There is no statute that codifies these laws under one umbrella. Rather, elder law is a combination of federal and state legislation, administrative rules and regulations, and court decisions. The Older Americans Act is the most significant legislation on the elderly. The OAA do not just aim to provide benefits and assistance to the elderly but also fund research on issues relating to ageing, such as diseases. The OAA has been amended numerous time to address current issues of the elderly and to include a comprehensive view of ageing, such that family members and community members are included as partners in providing support for the elderly.
While elder law encompasses numerous other laws related to ageing, it focuses on three issues: estate planning, long-term care, and guardianship. Estate planning is a process that is not necessarily only undertaken when one has reached the age of 60. Estate planning can be set up early in life and amended throughout the lifetime of the individual. With estate planning, the elderly will plan how they will be taken cared of when they are no longer able to do it themselves. This includes ensuring that the elderly's insurance and healthcare providers provide the care that they promised in their policies. Estate planning also involves deciding where the elderly's properties are going or how these properties are to be disposed of. Estate planning is meant to be comprehensive, which means all aspects of the life of the elderly must be planned out in preparation for disability or death. The most crucial part of estate planning is the drafting of a will to avoid future family conflicts.
On the aspect of guardianship, the elderly can appoint a family member or another person to take care of him when he can no longer care for himself. The appointment of a guardian can be done by oral directive but is best, and cautionary, to executive a power of attorney stating such appointment so that there will not be any dispute over the guardian's authority. In cases when the elderly do not have close family members who can take care of him, there are laws existing for the appointment of a guardian.
Elder law is a special area of the law that recognizes the valuable contribution of elderlies to the society. The elderlies get more vulnerable as they grow older, thus the country, under the doctrine of parens patriae, has the obligation to protect this group of people. Especially when one has become sickly due to age, it is best to consider hiring an elder law attorney to discuss the rights and benefits due to the elderly.