This question is posed to me pretty often at networking events. Unfortunately, as is the case with many queries in the legal profession, the answer is not a simple one. And I'm sure my colleagues in the Elder Law bar would find it difficult to come up with a definition that we all agree on.
"Elder Law", is a very simple, 3-syllable term, but it covers a relatively wide swath of the law because it addresses many different legal issues. Based on 18+ years of law practice, my own understanding of the definition of Elder Law is this: addressing legal issues that concern older individuals, the disabled, and their families.
Assuming my own definition is relatively accurate, right off the bat you can see that "Elder" may not be the best word to describe this area of the law. In my own practice, I would not consider the vast majority of my clients as "elderly". A good percentage of them may qualify as "older". Many are disabled or "special needs" but relatively young. One unique aspect of this type of law practice (particularly in regards to estate planning and Medicaid/nursing home planning) is that the legal services I provide directly involve, or at least have an impact on the close family members of my clients. And the spectrum of ages for those individuals is very wide. Suffice it to say that "elder" seems to be an insufficient term to describe my clients. However, I have not come up with a better term thus far.
So, what are the various legal issues that my older and disabled individuals often face? It's a long list: estate planning, Medicaid planning and the Medicaid application process, conservatorships and guardianships in the probate court system, Social Security, Medicare, Veterans Administration benefits, special needs trust planning, addressing inadequate care at a skilled nursing facility, assisted living facility or with home care, working with the State of Connecticut in regards to the administration of benefit programs, decedent's estate administration in probate court, and strategic transfers of real estate. These are the issues that currently come to mind, but the list is by no means exhaustive.