We are often asked about the difference between estate planning and elder law. While there are important distinctions between them, they are more universal than they may seem at first glance. Estate planning is not only for those with large estates and elder law is not exclusive to the elderly.
Estate planning focuses on an individual’s assets — how they should be held while the individual is still living, and how they should be distributed after that individual passes. Of paramount importance to many clients is the ability to make specific choices regarding the beneficiaries on each of his/her assets.
With the help of an estate planning attorney, an individual can create a will or trust that reflects the client’s desires regarding how his/her estate should be allocated after his/her passing. Without a proper estate plan in place, assets will be distributed according to the strict requirements of the law, which may run counter to the true wishes of the individual.
Additionally, an estate planning attorney can provide a plan inclusive of the needs of minor children or family members with disabilities. The plan ensures that those family members are provided for according to their unique and individual needs.
An estate planning attorney can utilize tax-planning mechanisms to minimize estate taxes, as well as utilize testamentary substitutes to minimize the cost of probate.
Elder law is a broad field that encompasses many different aspects of the law. As mentioned, it is not just for the elderly, and in fact, the process can be most effective when initiated prior to advanced age. Elder law focuses on providing a plan to continue living according to one’s wishes as one ages, while remaining in good financial standing. Depending on the individual’s circumstances, this plan can include trusts, gifts to family members, the purchase of long-term care insurance in anticipation of potential future needs or qualifying for Medicaid benefits.
Elder law planning also encompasses many of the estate planning tools, such as wills and trusts, as well as a Power of Attorney should the individual lose capacity at any point. Having a Power of Attorney eliminates the need for a Guardianship. A proper elder law plan should be a comprehensive, holistic plan that considers the specific current and future needs of the individual.
Attorneys practicing in the fields of estate planning and elder law share a common goal: to help the clients achieve their goals while preserving their assets for themselves and their loved ones. However, as mentioned, there are key differences in the practice of estate planning and elder law. It is important to reach out to a qualified elder law and/or estate planning attorney for assistance in ensuring that the future is appropriately planned for in terms of the preservation of assets and their ultimate distribution.