Take a Closer Look at the Trusted Advisor Relationship Between Elder Law Attorneys and Aging Life Care Professionals™
by Bunni Dybnis, MA, MFT, CMC – Aging Life Care Association Member and Fellow of the Leadership Academy
There are many reasons why the partnering of Elder Law attorneys and Aging Life Care Professionals™ is beneficial to both professionals and clients. In my personal experience, an increasing number of Elder Law Attorneys have called upon our skills, hiring us as part of their team. Our two professional groups often focus on similar objectives with complementary but different roles.
- Both professions specialize in helping adults and their families who are aging or have special needs.
- Elder Law attorneys use a variety of legal tools and techniques to meet the goals and objectives of their clients. Aging Life Care Professionals have diverse educational backgrounds, experience and specific knowledge of older adults. With degrees in nursing, social work, mental health or other related fields, Aging Life Care Professionals have the clinical ability and tools to assist clients and Elder Law attorneys.
- Both professions typically work with a wide range of professionals in various fields to provide their clients quality service and to ensure their complex needs are met.
- Both professions assist clients in planning for current and long-term care needs, including home care and nursing home care, assessing the appropriate level of care, coordinating private and public resources to finance the costs of care, and upholding the client’s right to quality care in the least restrictive setting.
Working Together for the Client
The Aging Life Care Professional regularly calls upon the Elder Law attorney for planning long-term Medicaid eligibility for clients in skilled nursing facilities or alternative waiver programs and in the preparation of wills, estate plans, advanced directives, conservatorships, and Special Needs Trusts. Aging Life Care Professionals also look to Elder Law attorneys to address possible nursing home abuse, elder abuse, and undue influence, including financial abuse.
The Aging Life Care Professional’s plan of care for most clients includes participation by an Elder Law attorney in achieving the goals identified by the Aging Life Care Professional in an assessment of the client’s physical, mental, family, social, safety, legal, and financial status and future planning needs.
The Aging Life Care Professional can be of great value as a trusted advisor to legal colleagues in achieving their client’s legal goals and goals outside the scope of the law. This advisory role may include:
- Completing objective assessments and plans of care for legal proceedings.
- Gathering previously undisclosed information for the ELA by onsite observation of the client’s current care situation, functional abilities, environmental dangers and relationships.
- Providing oversight for the courts and families to monitor adherence to an agreed-upon plan.
- Recommending personalized referrals regarding placement options, home care needs, and community resources for medical, psychiatric, social and other needs.
- Providing counseling, conflict resolution, and care coordination to enhance the quality of life for all involved.
- Overseeing medical insurance and long-term care insurance plans, as well as Special Needs Trusts to ensure compliance with the plans and optimal benefits are received.
- Advocating to ensure optimal medical and mental health treatment and access to community and entitlement programs.
- Assisting with applications for government entitlement programs and ensuring ongoing benefits are maximized.
- Providing expert witness in cases involving standards of care and other related areas of knowledge and experience.
In addition to specific needs that are defined by legal needs, there are often clues that a client may benefit from interventions from an Aging Life Care Professional. They may include: the smell of urine, change in client’s appearance, decline in client’s physical or cognitive abilities, growing family conflict, lack of medical attention, an overinvolved caretaker, sense of secrecy or information not being disclosed, or a sudden change in the client’s life including requests to change a will, death or illness of a spouse or child.
As I examine the meaning of the term trusted advisor, I reference my relationship with several Elder Law attorneys with whom I am privileged to work, and notice some common threads:
- It is essential we both look at long-term relationships, and not short-term results. This applies to the referrals I give for clients in need of legal services and those served by my profession.
- We both put the client’s interest ahead of our own and any others. This is a field loaded with ethical dilemmas which need to be addressed.
- Aging Life Care Professionals and Elder Law attorneys both demonstrate interest in not only the client, but in their extended contacts, both personal and professional.
- We both endeavor to understand and address our client’s needs beyond what is stated. Issues of capacity and undue influence complicate many situations.
- Self-determination, confidentiality, cooperation, and loyalty are ethical tenets shared by both in our relationships with our clients.
- We must both consistently and reliably follow-up. Our clients are often vulnerable and isolated. We may have to go beyond our explicit roles to ensure there is success in the outcomes.
As the number of older adults grow, the options are expanding and the challenges becoming more complex. It is a privilege to collaborate with my legal colleagues for the benefit of our clients. To connect with an Aging Life Care Professional, visit aginglifecare.org for a directory of Aging Life Care™ Experts.
About the author: Bunni Dybnis, MA, MFT, CMC is Director of Professional Services for LivHOME in Los Angeles, CA.
This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association™and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.