Lawyers will be having to deal more and more with an elderly clientele. What impacts will the ageing of the population have on their practice? How can they best serve this population segment that is gaining in importance? We discuss it with an expert.
“All subjects are likely to apply in a somewhat special way when talking about the elderly,” says Christine Morin, professor at the Faculty of Law of Université Laval and Antoine-Turmel Research Chair on legal protection of the elderly. “This is absolutely not a bad thing in itself, but it can bring more complex elements.”
In matters of labour law, jurists can deal with discrimination against individuals who want to continue working after a certain age, while particular issues can arise in relation to housing law when it comes to seniors’ residences. It must be remembered that all branches of law may need to be considered when it comes to an ageing, and often more vulnerable, population.
Ignorance of their rights
Regardless of age, most people have little understanding of their rights. “This is really a problem that affects the entire population,” laments Christine Morin. In the case of elderly persons, this ignorance stands as an additional obstacle to their integrity. “Since they are in situations of vulnerability, it is even more difficult for them to seek out information, to seek support to claim their rights and to assert them.”
The delicate question of abuse
“We know that elder abuse exists, but it is very hidden. The more elderly people there are, the more likely it is that some of them are struggling with abuse,” points out Ms. Morin. The Quebec government launched a first Government Action Plan to Counter Elder Abuse in 2010, which it renewed in 2017, a sign of the issue’s importance.
The role of the lawyer (or notary) is therefore to remain vigilant in order to identify any manifestation of abuse of its elderly clientele, whether financial (for example, a so-called “predatory” marriage), material (when it comes to an estate, in particular) or physical (when it’s a matter of medical wishes), and to offer help to get out of such as situation, as appropriate.
The golden age (of prevention)
If settlement of an abusive situation is silver, in this case prevention is gold. But for a jurist, how is this to be achieved? “By signing good documents with seniors,” Me Morin insists. It is necessary “to ensure, when receiving clients, that they are well aware of their rights, that they sign good documents.” In the case of a will, for which there is no maximum age, it is important “to ensure that the person is able to give free and informed consent at the time of writing.”