Legal Considerations for Seniors

Proper preparation can bring piece of mind

I consider myself a planner. I like to know ahead of time what needs to be done this weekend, next week, even for next summer’s vacation. But when it comes to legal and financial issues that should be addressed, I, like many other Baby Boomers, procrastinate.

What is it about planning for later in life that is so challenging? It’s tough to consider future illness, incapacity or death; family members can disagree with our choices; the paperwork involved can be complicated; and if we involve a professional, we assume there may be significant expense. But we’re not alone. Recent research indicates that, while recognizing that health issues and other stressful life events, such as losing a spouse, are common as we age, most older adults don’t believe these events will really happen to them and therefore don’t plan for them.

I recently spoke with Rachel R. of Warrenton whose husband had “dragged her” to a lawyer years ago to complete their important legal papers. She cried throughout the appointment, wanted to leave the room several times, and agonized over every decision that needed to be made. Rachel came to realize how critical the process had been when her husband died last summer. She knew his wishes were being honored; she had peace of mind that, during her time of grief, no major decisions needed to be made. Her children were grateful that their father had had the foresight to prepare.

Hanna Rodriguez, elder law attorney with Walker Jones law firm in Warrenton, said, “It’s empowering to get your estate plan [and associated documents] in order; to be proactive instead of reactive. If you plan when you’re healthy, you can really think through what you want and don’t want.” Some of these decisions include: who would be your best representative (Power of Attorney) if you couldn’t make decisions for yourself? Where do you want to be buried? Who would most appreciate your mother’s jewelry or your prized tools? These are typically not choices that can be pinpointed quickly. And if they’re not documented with the proper paperwork, your family can be left with uncertainty and, in many cases, end up arguing over what you would have wanted.

Imagine how empowering it would be to have your estate plan in place, to rest assured that your wishes are in writing and everyone involved knows what you want. Pieces of the plan could include, but aren’t necessarily limited to: a will, durable general power of attorney, medical power of attorney, advance directives, and burial designation/disposition of remains. Depending on their situation, some individuals would benefit from creation of a trust. It’s important to consult an elder law attorney for advice, not only to ensure the right documentation but also to ask questions or recognize special circumstances that might apply to you that you might not be aware of.


Senior Citizens Handbook: Laws & Programs Affecting Senior Citizens in Virginia, available free of charge through the Virginia State Bar, 804-775-0500 or go to Includes information on Medicare and Medicaid, long-term care services, reverse mortgages, probate and estate administration, protection of legal rights, and much more.

Piedmont Dispute Resolution Center, 540-347-6650. PDRC provides free or reduced cost mediation. Mediation is a proven process in which a neutral person facilitates communication between two or more people in disagreement. Mediation can be helpful in family and other situations in which a continued relationship is desired because mediation is designed to end with a win/win solution. All parties can then continue their relationship as all are involved in the decisions that are made. Mediation can also be helpful because it allows for details to be discussed that might otherwise be overlooked., an excellent series of articles on a variety of topics including “Addressing Medical, Legal & Financial Advance Care Planning.”

Carol Simpson
About Carol Simpson 10 Articles
Carol Simpson is a graduate of Georgetown University. She was executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Washington, trainer at Home Instead Senior Care, and development manager at the Alzheimer’s Association of Central/Western Virginia before becoming executive director of Aging Together.

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