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    Geris-Prudence: Getting Legit About Your Legal Affairs By Susanna P. Barton

    By Susanna P. Barton


    If you’re ready to get legit about life planning, make this the month you find a well-regarded lawyer who can transform your hopes and dreams into a legal record that stands the test of time. This is step three of a workable Grand Plan – an action that yields measurable results and relief for you, your family, and the community you serve. So let’s get going with some order in the court!


    Getting your legal affairs organized begins with finding the right attorney. As an adult rocking the second half, you’ll want to look for the most reputable elder law or estate planning attorney you can find.


    Though it may seem economical and easy, a website with free power of attorney templates should not be your first stop, according to the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) website. “While forms for powers of attorney are widely available, an Elder Law attorney should be consulted before executing documents that give access to one’s financial and medical affairs to another person. For example, many states provide sample forms (particularly health care powers of attorney) as part of their statutes. Many are limited in purpose and scope. Unfortunately, the sufficiency of power of attorney forms is usually tested only after it is too late to make necessary revisions.”


    For obvious reasons,  NAELA suggests finding a credible elder law or estate planning attorney. In my experience, having good legal counsel on my side was essential to managing the caregiving of an incapacitated couple under my charge. We talked constantly about the right ways to approach their needs in multiple areas of law. An experienced attorney can help smooth some of the rough patches and mitigate challenges you or your loved ones may experience along the way.


    Generally speaking, and according to the National Elder Law Foundation, elder law attorneys practice “counseling and representing older persons and persons with special needs, and their representatives about the legal aspects of health and long-term care planning, public benefits, surrogate decision making, legal capacity, the conservation, disposition and administration of estates and the implementation of their decisions concerning such matters, giving due consideration to the applicable tax consequences of the action, or the need for more sophisticated tax expertise.” Elder law attorneys can assist with the legalities of the following issues, according to the American Bar Association:

    • Health and personal care planning
    • Pre-mortem legal planning (wills, trusts, etc.)
    • Fiduciary representation
    • Legal capacity counseling and representation
    • Public benefits
    • Special needs
    • Insurance issues
    • Resident rights advocacy
    • Housing issues
    • Employment and retirement advice
    • Litigation and administrative agency advocacy
    • Senior counseling


    The NAELA website has a search function to help consumers locate a certified elder law attorney in their area. But prior to that research, poll friends and family on what attorneys they’ve used and liked. Referrals are the best source for locating an elder attorney that suits your needs.


    Estate planning attorneys do much of the same kind of work as elder law attorneys, but they tend to focus more on protecting and distributing your assets. According to the American Bar Association, estate planning attorneys “are familiar with your goals and concerns, your assets and how they are owned, and your family structure. It can involve the services of various professionals, including your lawyer, accountant, financial planner, life insurance advisor, banker, and broker. Estate planning covers the transfer of property at death as well as a variety of other personal matters and may or may not involve tax planning. The core document most often associated with this process is your will.” When you think of estate planning lawyers think about documents like:

    • Wills
    • Revocable trusts
    • Powers of attorney
    • Living wills
    • Healthcare proxies
    • Probate
    • Advance healthcare directives
    • Asset protection


    Again, seek counsel first from friends, family, and colleagues about their experiences with estate planning attorneys before visiting a reliable source directory like the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel.


    Whatever legal path you take – whether it’s estate planning law, an elder law attorney, or both (which is my humble recommendation) – make sure you at least have a will in place, AT LEAST. This will mitigate all sorts of probate hardship, complications, and expenses for your surviving loved ones. But truthfully, a will is really a small part of the overall legal puzzle.


    A 2023 study from found that 1 out of 4 Americans without a will never plan on getting one, and more than 40 percent say they plan on waiting until a medical diagnosis. That is not a good plan!


    According to the National Institute on Aging, these are the barebone basics you will need to have in your “important documents” file as you make your approach to the sunset stroll:

    • A will
    • A durable power of attorney for finances
    • A living trust
    • A living will
    • A durable power of attorney for healthcare


    The National Institute on Aging further recommends putting these important documents in one place and telling people you trust where they are located, talking to your loved ones and a doctor about advance care planning, giving permission in advance for a lawyer or doctor to talk to your caregiver as needed, and reviewing your plans regularly.


    Like every other component of a workable grand plan, good legal planning requires preparation, thoughtfulness, and honest, open, and ongoing conversation with the loved ones supporting you in your later years.


    Susanna Barton, a member of Jacksonville Mayor Donna Degan’s subcommittee on elder care, has worked as a professional writer in Jacksonville for nearly 30 years and is the founder of the Grand Plans online community, podcast, newsletter, and blog.  Her book Grand Plans: How to Mitigate Geri-Drama in 20 Easy Steps and its accompanying workbook, the Grand Planner, are available in local stores and on Amazon. For more information, visit