Planning for the future is a crucial step in ensuring that your loved ones are taken care of, your legacy is protected, and that your wishes are honored. When it comes to legal matters concerning older adults, two terms are often used to refer to this strategic process: estate planning and elder law planning.
While these two concepts do share some similarities, it is important to understand their differences and recognize where traditional estate planning ends and when elder law planning becomes essential. In this article, we will shed light on the distinctions between estate planning and elder law planning, highlight situations where the latter becomes indispensable, and provide information on what you’ll need to know to proceed.
Estate Planning: Estate planning primarily focuses on the planned and thoughtful distribution of assets and property after an individual's passing or who handles their affairs if a person is incapacitated. It involves creating legally binding documents such as wills, trusts, financial power of attorney, medical power of attorney and living wills. The objective is to safeguard your assets, minimize taxes, and ensure that your beneficiaries receive their rightful inheritance. Estate planning also often includes establishing guardianships for minor children and planning for potential incapacitation through documents like living wills and power of attorney documents.
Elder Law Planning: Elder law planning, on the other hand, encompasses a broader range of legal concerns specific to older adults(Typically over the age of 65 and depending on personal health). It addresses issues beyond asset distribution and concentrates on the challenges that may arise as one ages. Elder law planning provides legal strategies to protect the rights, finances, and well-being of older individuals. It covers areas such as healthcare planning, long-term care, Medicaid eligibility, guardianship, and protection against elder abuse and exploitation.
It also often focuses on trying to preserve assets for the aging individual AND for the family.
SITUATIONS REQUIRING ELDER LAW PLANNING:
Long-Term Care Planning: Elder law planning helps individuals prepare for the financial costs associated with long-term care, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or in-home care. It involves exploring options to finance long-term care, such as Medicaid planning and the proper use of trusts, to preserve assets while still qualifying for government assistance.
Medicaid Planning: Elder law attorneys assist individuals in navigating the complex Medicaid eligibility rules and developing strategies to protect assets while qualifying for Medicaid benefits. This may involve transferring assets, establishing trusts, or implementing other legal techniques to meet the program's stringent requirements.
Incapacity Planning: As we age, the risk of cognitive decline and incapacity increases. Elder law planning addresses these concerns by helping individuals establish durable powers of attorney, healthcare proxies, and living wills. These documents designate trusted individuals to make financial and medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.
Elder Abuse and Exploitation: Sadly, older adults are susceptible to various forms of abuse, including physical, emotional, and financial exploitation. Elder law attorneys can help protect seniors by implementing safeguards, pursuing legal action against perpetrators, and assisting with guardianship proceedings if necessary.
Special Needs Planning: If you have a loved one with special needs, elder law planning can help establish special needs trusts to ensure they are financially secure while maintaining eligibility for government benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid. The goal in such cases is to preserve the help that you may have been providing during your lifetime, and in a way that does not disqualify the individual from benefits.
CONCLUSION AND WHERE TO TURN:
While estate planning and elder law planning share common goals of protecting assets and ensuring wishes are carried out, the latter extends beyond inheritance matters. Elder law planning specifically caters to the unique needs and challenges faced by older adults. By seeking the guidance of an experienced elder law attorney, individuals can navigate issues related to long-term care, Medicaid eligibility, incapacity planning, elder abuse, and special needs planning. Engaging in comprehensive elder law planning empowers older adults and their families to face the future with confidence, knowing that their interests are protected, and their rights upheld.
For this reason, UTBF has both an estate planning department or practice section AND a separate practice group that works extensively in elder law planning.
If you already know that you want a consultation on elder law, please call 610-933-8069 to schedule.
If you’d like more resources and information to help you in your quest to do elder law planning, look below to access our many elder law resources. We periodically offer complimentary elder law webinars. If you are not a client but sign up to receive our elder law e-newsletter, you will be notified when the next webinar is scheduled.
Click here to go to our Elder Law website.