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VOL. 119 | NO. 44 | Thursday, March 3, 2005

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A lot of seniors are being faced with making decisions about having power of attorney or a living will or estate issues or pu

Aging Population Expands Elder Law Practice


The Daily News

When the baby boomer generation begins turning 65 in 2011, it will mark a new milestone in the nations demographic makeup.

Born between 1946 and 1964, baby boomers will more than double the U.S. senior population by 2030, according to the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. The number of adults 65 and older is projected to grow from 35 million in 2000 to 71.5 million in 2030, representing nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population.

Growing field. This aging demographic has an area of law practice on the rise mainly due to the fact that Americans are living longer.

The whole field is growing like crazy; its still growing more rapidly than any of us can keep up with, said John Fockler, a Memphis solo practitioner who focuses on elder law. Its growing at the same rate at which the nursing homes are growing in the number of people. Assisted living that whole field is growing.

The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, founded in 1988 to assist attorneys dedicated to legal services for the elderly, has seen rapid growth. Currently at 4,800 members, the organization has increased its membership by about 400 people in each of the past two years.

Elder law is becoming more and more known because weve got more and more people that are growing older, living longer and having more problems that are relatively or directly associated with age, said William King Self Jr., an attorney with Apperson, Crump & Maxwell PLC. As far as health issues are concerned, youve got the more common problem of the need for nursing home or assisted living, so theres a big need for more counseling on options for older people.

Expanding practice. Fockler said the area will continue to grow.

I think theyre starting to find it, he said of attorneys in Memphis. Some of the estate planning lawyers are starting to get into it. Im trying to encourage lawyers, particularly people in the estate planning field, to understand more about it and get into it. I obviously dont want everybody to take my business away from me, but I think theres plenty of it. My wife keeps saying to me, Youre giving it all away. I say, No, I still get more calls than I know what to do with.

While some attorneys focus specifically on elder law, several disciplines fall within the practice area.

The elder law field is different from other types of law because its a multidisciplinary approach to help elderly and disabled and their families, said Ann Krauss, spokeswoman for NAELA. Its the type of attorney thats caring, compassionate. They generally try to seek non-adversarial ways to help to preserve the dignity of the individuals.

Importance of planning. Fockler, who became a member of NAELA in 1996 and touts the fact that he was the first attorney in Tennessee to join the organization, said Medicaid planning is a priority for his clients.

My standard phone call is, My father just had a stroke and is in the hospital, and theyre telling me he cant come home. He has to go to a nursing home, and I hear theyre going to take everything away from me, Fockler said. Theres planning you can do for Medicaid.

Fockler also talks to people concerned about a loved one who has had a stroke, for example, but has never established power of attorney or health care power of attorney.

The question comes up, Are they competent to sign a power of attorney or are they not competent to sign a power of attorney? he said. People say to me, My father has had a stroke; he cant write his name. And I say, I dont care whether or not he can write his name. The important thing is if I say to him, This permits your son to handle your financial affairs, will he understand what Im saying and be able to say yes even though he can only make an X when it comes to signing his name.

Early consideration. Paul Lawler, an attorney with Glankler Brown PLLC who deals with elder law issues among several other practice areas, said elder law includes issues that younger people should be concerned about.

Its really a collection of those issues that pertain to the law that affect one more so with age, but you or I might have the same or substantially same issues, even though were not chronologically gifted yet, he said. It covers from health care to retirement to estate planning. Rarely do people under 45 ever ponder their mortality.

The same goes for many over 45.

The seniors here tend to want to hold on to their independence longer, and actually, they may not be physically or mentally able to do that, said Dorothy Bogard of Senior Services. Thats when someone has to step in. We are living longer. The baby boomers are a different breed. The individuals in their early 60s, theyre just a different breed. Theyre not accepting age lying down. Theyre fighting all the way, but they still have some of the same medical problems, and they dont want to let family members or children step in and take that control.

Reaching people. Fockler said getting seniors to realize they need to get their affairs in order is one of his biggest challenges as an elder law attorney.

Those of us who are in this field are trying to get people to understand that they need to do powers of attorney and health care powers of attorney and living wills while theyre younger, he said. You never know when the time is going to come that something is going to happen, and if you get to that point and havent done one, its too late.


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