Elder Law: what is it and why is it so important?

When I tell people that I am an Elder Law lawyer they often ask: “what is Elder Law”? So, I tell them that Elder Law is an area of law that focuses on legal issues facing older adults. In my practice, I represent clients living in retirement homes, long-term care homes and in the community. Common Elder Law issues include personal injury claims due to neglect in care homes, financial abuse, consent and capacity matters, hospital discharge issues and human rights claims.

Part of the work I do also involves challenging common misperceptions people have about older adults. It is common for people to assume that like children, older adults are incapable of making decisions for themselves. I often hear “dad is making bad decisions… he cannot make decisions for himself”. I often advise these clients that capacity is complex and that just because dad’s decisions are bad, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he is incapable of making those decisions.

These sorts of capacity issues, especially when dealing with family members are very rarely black and white. On one hand, it is important that we respect everyone’s right to live freely and with dignity.  On the other hand, an older adult who no longer has capacity to make certain decisions is more vulnerable to financial abuse or neglect in health care. I have seen families overwhelmed and struggling to protect a loved one. I have also seen families divided about how best to protect mom or dad. Sometimes the work I do involves mediating a tense family dispute or representing family members who wish to become a guardian of property for the older adult.

My clients tend to face challenges in the health care system that younger individuals generally do not face. For example, a woman in her late 70s who has a fall or a car accident that results in serious injuries, may require rehabilitation and she may not be able to safely return home. The hospital may push for her to be discharged before she can safely return home or get into a care facility of her choosing. She may also have difficulties accessing the necessary rehabilitation. In these sorts of cases, I am dealing with more than just a personal injury claim. I am dealing with a client who requires patient advocacy and may potentially require assistance with discharge planning from the hospital.

The work I do is important not only because of our aging population, but also because there are significant gaps in our legal system and our health care system when it comes to older adults. I became very aware of these gaps working at the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly prior to co-founding Advocai. The work I do may never be the subject of a prime-time TV show like Suits, but, it is meaningful work that has a profound impact on the lives of my clients.

Advocai Contact Form