The main difference between estate law and elder law is that estate law focuses on the tax-advantaged distribution of your assets after your death, while elder law preserves your money, assets, and income during your lifetime. However, it is not unusual for elder law strategies to involve estate and tax planning. An elder law firm will also have unique, in-depth insight regarding the rights of senior citizens.
If you have concerns about the health and financial welfare of your parent or other older adult in your life, hiring an elder law attorney can ensure their resources will meet their needs as much as possible. Typically planning will focus on crucial issues such as long-term care needs, financial wellness, and quality of life, including estate planning, asset protection, Medicaid planning and applications, wills and trusts, estate administration, probate, advance directives, special needs planning, and guardianships.
Even if you have your elder law planning in place, it is prudent to ask yourself these six questions:
- Do you have a durable power of attorney, health care proxy, and a living will?
- Have you updated these documents within the last five years?
- Are protected assets in place in the event you require home care or nursing home care?
- What steps have you taken to protect your home?
- Can you spend half or even all of your assets on the cost of your care?
- Have you considered the impacts of COVID-19 throughout your planning?
If you answer “no” to any of these questions, it is time to make an appointment with your elder law attorney to review the status of your documents.
The Importance of Asset Protection Planning
Asset protection planning safeguards your assets in advance of long-term health care needs allowing your hard-earned money to pass to your loved ones. Medicaid planning protects assets by securing government benefit eligibility. Early planning is key to maximizing these protections. Currently, the look-back period for Medicaid is five years for nursing home benefits and two and a half years for at-home care.
Proper planning can ensure you, or a loved one, receive the needed care that may otherwise not be affordable. If you have a healthy spouse who wants to remain in the home, they will have the financial resources to do so as their assets will not be subject to Medicaid’s estate recovery program, in particular, real estate liens.
Elder law attorneys also specialize in uniquely senior citizen issues such as:
- Filing a claim pertaining to employment age discrimination
- Seeking to redress nursing home issues
- Seeking legal solutions to housing issues like home equity conversions and discrimination
- Seeking legal solutions to elder physical, emotional, or financial abuse
How Can an Elder Law Attorney Help You or a Loved One
Meeting with an elder law attorney can help you understand, establish your priorities, and assist in naming key decision-makers. If you have challenging family situations, an experienced elder law attorney can help you find solutions. These situations can be but are not limited to:
- Wanting to ensure a physically or mentally incapacitated loved one receives care when you are gone
- Your high-value estate and substantial assets in retirement accounts worry you that your family will not be able to pay state and federal estate taxes
- You live with one of your adult children and need to create a family care contract
- You have a child or children with spending problems or worry that one of your children will divorce and do not want an ex-spouse inheriting half of your own child’s inheritance
Every adult needs to have an estate plan regardless of age or wealth, but the plan should also include elder law planning so that while you are alive, you receive the care you require and your assets remain protected for your spouse and heirs. There is no substitute for getting the correct legal advice for your future well-being and that of your family.