Older Adult Care and Estate Planning: A Timeline

These different legal areas are more or less of a concern at different stages in an older adult's life. Most legal definitions and eligibility benefits say age 65 is when caregivers need to be more aware or start to step in.

Older adult law, an updated term for elder law, focuses on legal issues for people over 65 and their families.

Older adult law is more than just estate planning. Older adults (or their loved ones) should be educated about:

  • Their legal rights
  • Available advocates on their behalf
  • Ways to meet the diverse needs of the older adult population
  • Signs of abuse

Pay attention to an older person's actions and decisions if you suspect their mental state or health is declining.

Throughout Life: Estate Planning

Estate planning should begin when you are a legal adult, though most people don't begin the process until they have significant assets, get married, or start a family.

A will is a written legal document that names the people or organizations receiving property after death.

On the other hand, a trust is established during someone's lifetime. It specifies:

  • How assets will be managed while someone is alive
  • Who will receive assets
  • How assets will be managed after death

You can find a range of legal forms that you or your older adult parents may want to consider during estate planning. It can help ease financial worries and make difficult medical decisions smoother.

Any Time: Medical Care and Physical Injury

You can't be sure when someone may slip and fall or get into an accident. Options are available to individuals (or family members) to plan ahead for the possibility of age-related medical conditions or physical disabilities. Making a detailed health care plan, discussing possible health situations with family, and knowing the available support can help prepare for unexpected health challenges.

It's also important to be aware of local emergency services and medical facilities to get quick help when needed. Planning ahead gives peace of mind and helps people and their families handle health emergencies confidently.

Any Time: Watching for Abuse

There is no age, culture, gender identity, or financial status that determines if someone will face older adult abuse. This can include:

  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Domestic abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Emotional and mental abuse
  • Various forms of mistreatment

Any suspected abuse is serious. You may need to contact Adult Protective Services (APS), the Department of Health and Human Services, or law enforcement for help.

You can't always be sure reporting abuse to a care facility will be handled correctly. Many staff and social services are mandatory reporters, but facilities have been known to cover up crimes. Older adults can easily become victims of abuse without loved ones watching out for them.

Any Time: Preparing for Incapacity or Mental Health Concerns

There is no specific age when mental illness begins or cognitive ability starts to decline. Physical and mental impairment can go hand in hand after a diagnosis or injury, such as serious self-neglect after suffering an injury.

To help protect the well-being of an older adult, you can turn to legal documents that let you make their financial or health care decisions, including powers of attorney and conservatorships.

Durable General Power of Attorney

durable general power of attorney lets your loved one appoint another person or persons (the agent or attorney-in-fact) to act on their behalf. You can transact any and all of their personal business and become responsible for managing their assets.

Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care

Through a durable power of attorney for health care, your older adult parent can appoint an agent to make health care decisions on their behalf if they become incapacitated. This decision-making document is also known as an advance directive because it outlines the type of health care they want to receive (or do not want).


If no durable powers of attorney are in place when your loved one is incapacitated, it may be necessary to petition the court for a conservatorship.

You can become a conservator for your loved one. This is a court process that makes you the manager for:

  • Financial decisions and affairs
  • Personal care (which can range from taking on day-to-day care or hiring care service providers)

The courts typically need proof that your older adult parent is either physically or mentally unable to handle self-care or financial tasks. Due to the risks of financial exploitation, domestic violence, or other forms of abuse, a conservatorship may be court-supervised.

A conservatorship usually arises when no one has legally been given the authority to handle the incapacitated person's financial and medical affairs.

Age 65: Long-Term Care Planning

Many financial planners recommend considering long-term care insurance before or when you turn 65, recognizing the importance of planning for future health needs. This coverage can assist in handling potential expenses related to extended medical care.

Additionally, options like Medicaid and Medicare become available around this age, offering additional support and resources for health care. Exploring these choices ensures a more comprehensive approach to long-term care planning, providing a safety net for potential health-related challenges in the later stages of life.

Age 85+: Admittance to a Skilled Nursing Facility or Nursing Home

Your loved one could need assisted living or a nursing home anytime. However, it is more likely they will need some level of care facilities later in life. On average, half of the people in nursing homes are 85 or older.

Most older adults consider assistance when:

  • A disability endangers their safety
  • They can't walk or use the stairs
  • They might wander or get lost and need supervision
  • You or your family have chronic caregiver burnout
  • You can no longer provide in-home care
  • You don't live close enough to assist them when needed or in emergencies

Giving up their independence or home is difficult for many older adults. Many facilities and service agencies provide various levels of help, which can help ease the transition.

Final Steps: Management of the Estate After Death

Know you are not alone, and there are professional services who can help you at this difficult stage. One of the first steps will be the probate court process.

Probate is a court procedure used to:

  • Pay debts
  • Clear titles to real estate property
  • Move assets to the beneficiaries named in a will

These items will be handled under state law if you die without a will.

Trust administration is also essential at this time. This process occurs after the trust owner's death and includes:

  • Management of trust assets
  • Ultimate distribution of trust assets to named beneficiaries
  • Fulfilling duties as specified in the Declaration of Trust
  • Communicating with trust beneficiaries
  • Paying obligations of the trust
  • Preparing trust accountings

Any Time: Seeking Legal Services

Elder law attorneys can assist you with issues ranging from the estate planning process to elder abuse cases. They work closely with professionals in medicine, social services, long-term care, and financial matters to maximize the options for older adults.

The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) is a professional organization for attorneys specializing in elder law and can be a good place to start for legal advice.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Complex care situations usually require a lawyer
  • A lawyer can reduce the chances of a family dispute
  • DIY living wills, powers of attorney, and wills are possible in some simple cases.
  • You can always have an attorney review your form

Get tailored advice and ask your legal questions. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

 If you need an attorney, find one right now