I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. It may sound like an infomercial cliché, but it’s a horror story that often takes families by surprise.
Julia Keck Price understands it well. She lived it. “I stopped by to visit my 89-year-old grandmother one day and she didn’t come to the door,” said Price, a Life Care Planning Attorney at Elder Law of East Tennessee, a Life Care Planning Law Firm in Knoxville. “Turns out that she had fallen and had been laying there for several days.”
Price’s nightmare occurred just as she was beginning her career as an elder law attorney.
During her grandmother’s stay in the hospital, a rehab center, and eventually, an assisted living center, Price got a crash course in the elder care journey. “People were talking about things I’d never heard of before—and I’m a lawyer,” said Price, who started her position at Elder Law of East Tennessee on the same day that her grandmother was due to be discharged from the hospital. “We had done no planning. We were starting from ground zero.”
Price’s story is not unique. Life Care Planning Law Firms deal with situations like these every day. They are called crisis cases, meaning that action must be taken immediately to ensure an elder’s safety. As Price gained experience in her new role, she began to see that this crisis could have been avoided. In fact, pre-crisis planning, which involves putting plans in place early to prepare for the day when care is needed, is the most powerful tool a Life Care Planning Law Firm offers.
For Price, the elder care coordinator is the secret weapon. “We have a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a gerontologist, and a Registered Nurse working as elder care coordinators in our firm,” said Price. “Their experience makes it possible to help families develop a sound strategy for dealing with the medical and personal consequences of aging, long-term illness, or disability.”
Once the elder’s needs are determined, Life Care Planning attorneys get to work on the legal side, identifying all possible sources of payment for care, helping the elder apply for public benefits if necessary, and assembling all the legal documents needed to protect family assets and make sure that the elder gets the best care possible.
If Medicaid will be the main source of funding for eventual long-term care, the elder care coordinator assesses what care and services will be needed to get the elder though the five-year lookback period.
For individuals and couples who don’t have long-term care insurance, it’s essential to start planning long before incapacity occurs. “I know it’s hard to think about, but only a small percentage of people will be lucky enough to die in their sleep,” Price cautioned. “The reality is that most older people will get sick and need some sort of long-term care, either in the home or in a facility.”
How soon is soon enough to start planning? “If you want to have assets to pass on to your family and children, you need put your plan in place at least five years before you think you’ll need care,” Price counseled. “Most people in their mid to early 70s should be starting to have these conversations. Procrastination can be devasting. Don’t wait.”