Legal Matters for Seniors

June 23, 2015

If you have elderly parents, you’ve no doubt had conversations with them regarding topics like healthcare or potential housing changes. But what about their end-of-life arrangements – how clear are you on what’s in place for mom or dad should one of them suddenly become incapacitated? If it’s time for missing agreements to be drawn up or outdated ones to be amended, it may be time to find your parent a reliable attorney.

Before we explore the best ways to find quality legal assistance, let’s review the three most important documents your senior parents should have in place:

  • Written will – kind of a no-brainer, right? Yet it’s surprising how many people reach their senior years relying on outdated or incomplete wills put in place decades earlier. This is top of the review list.
  • Living will – also known as an advanced directive, a living will documents a person’s wishes regarding medical care and treatment options should they become unable to communicate for themselves. Typically this includes desires regarding resuscitation, quality of life, and end-of-life treatments – both what you want and don’t. It’s important that these documents be as specific as possible, realizing that no one can fully anticipate every potential healthcare scenario (which is where the durable power of attorney can take over – see below).
  • Durable power of attorney – when witnessed, signed, and notarized, a durable power of attorney gives one or more appointed people the authority to make financial and legal decisions for someone should they become incapacitated. Some can be written specifically for healthcare (known as durable powers of attorney for healthcare), and can include specifics like who has access to medical records, which healthcare treatments are desired/not desired, etc. Durable powers of attorney are usually active once they’re signed, but it’s a good idea to update them every 2-3 years.

Which brings us back to legal representation.  Normally, we rely on the recommendations of trusted friends or colleagues, and that’s a great way to start, providing mom lives nearby and can benefit from local recommendations. Remember that a good lawyer should be able to offer sound strategic advice, so make sure you’re limiting your research to firms specializing in end-of-life matters.

If you’re faced with finding recommendations from afar, there are several online resources to help get the ball rolling. The American Bar Association has a helpful search tool that can jump-start the process; you can also contact your state’s bar association for help narrowing your search to legal groups with elder law expertise. Sites like and also offer guidance for people having to start from scratch.

Once you’ve got your short list of potentials, you’ll want to schedule a half-hour conversation (ideally in person) to scope out not only someone experienced and reliable, but also a person who’ll have a good rapport with your parent.  Ask them the best way to contact them, and what their average response turnaround time is; the answer to this question alone is usually an excellent indicator of their willingness to work with you, as well as their accessibility and communication skills – two critical elements to an efficient partnership.

Once you’ve narrowed your search further, carefully check through client references and contact the firm’s state bar association to research any outstanding sanctions or reports of improper behavior.

Want to dig deeper? offers more detail on its website.