According to the Centers for Disease Control, life expectancy for Americans is now 78.6 years. Seniors, those 65 and older, make up a growing part of the American and world population. In fact, by 2050, seniors are expected to account for 22 percent of the world’s population.
Aging seniors, often called the elderly, face a number of challenges, including diminished capacity, acute and chronic health conditions, and long-term care and financial planning needs. They are at risk for becoming victims of scams, fraud and exploitation. As a result, they often rely on others to assist with preserving their assets, reducing debt, planning for retirement, or securing Medicaid or VA benefits. Many seniors, faced with losing their independence, suffer from depression and other mental health conditions.
Unfortunately, too many people fail to plan adequately for this stage of life and do not have adequate insurance, wills or advanced directives. Unforeseen medical bills can decimate savings’ accounts, leaving little to live on beyond Social Security benefits or pensions. Without sufficient funds, many aging seniors end up living in low-income, substandard housing if there are no family members to assist them.
Seniors need strong, educated advocates who will fight for their rights, help preserve their wishes, and protect them from exploitation.
Educating Those Who Serve the Elderly
Stetson University College of Law, through its Center for Excellence in Elder Law, is a nationally-known expert in elder law research, advocacy and education. The faculty began to hear from non-lawyers working in human service fields interested in pursuing the Certificate of Concentration in Elder Law associated with the JD program or the LL.M. in Elder Law; however, they did not want to go through three years of law school.
They wanted specialized, immediately applicable training and education on the most relevant topics affecting the elderly.
The Master of Jurisprudence Program
There was clearly a need to establish a program for non-lawyers who work with and serve the elderly. After researching several program options, Professors Rebecca Morgan and Roberta Flowers established the Master of Jurisprudence (MJ) Degree in Aging, Law and Policy. This graduate program is for those who work in hospice care, funeral and memorial service companies, nursing home administration, non-profit agencies that assist the elderly, such as an Area Agency on Aging, or at an elder law firm.
The MJ in Aging, Law and Policy requires students to have a bachelor’s degree in any major. Students with appropriate work experience may request a waiver of the GRE or GMAT. The program, aimed at the working professional, is online, allowing busy students the flexibility to participate in forums and discussions or watch lectures at their convenience. While most classwork is completed on an asynchronous basis, there will be times when students coordinate on a group project or schedule a faculty meeting. Students can complete the program part-time over four semesters for a total of 25 credit hours.
Classes help students develop an in-depth understanding of the legal system and how it impacts the elderly and those who advocate and care for them. Students will take classes in disability law, fundamentals of contracts, gerontological healthcare, guardianship, taxes and estate planning, and ethics in elder law. All students will complete a master’s thesis under a faculty mentor.
The same experienced practitioners and educators who teach in the J.D. and LL.M. program also teach in the MJ program. They are authors, board members, former presidents of NAELA, policy influencers and researchers. Many are Board Certified in Elder Law from their state bar examiners and all are dedicated to teaching and scholarship. They offer subject matter expertise and often help students wrestle with real-world issues in their workplaces.
Between the Baby Boom population size and the advances in medical care and services, there will be more people living longer. As such, the demand for elder care professionals who will protect the rights, assets and health of this vulnerable population will continue to grow. Because much of the care involves technical and legal knowledge, it is imperative that caregivers seek specialized education, such as the MJ in Aging, Law and Policy at Stetson University College of Law.