By: Donna M. Stefans, Esq. AIF®
It is a common misconception that elder law and estate planning is much the same thing, or that only wealthy people can benefit from proper estate planning. You may be surprised to learn that neither is true. Everyone has an estate — the only difference is what that estate consists of, and therefore, everyone can benefit from estate planning. On the other hand, elder law incorporates proper estate planning, but also focuses on answering the following questions:
- What happens if I become disabled or otherwise cannot make important financial and healthcare decisions for myself?
- Who is allowed to make such decision for me?
- Are there any special government benefits that I may qualify for?
- Where will I live if I become incapacitated and my loved ones are not able to care for me?
- How will I pay for this living arrangement? What happens to my personal belongings?
- How do I preserve my wealth?
- How do I stay social, intellectually stimulated, and happy?
In other words, elder law encompasses many different areas of the law. Elder law attorneys are often skilled estate planning attorneys, but thoughtfully address other issues too. We at Stefans Law Group PC have developed a unique, holistic life care planning approach to elder law that provides for all aspects of a persons life — including housing, social, financial, and medical concerns.
What Does an Estate Planning Attorney Do?
Estate planning attorneys specialize in creating legally binding documents that clearly dictate what is to occur in the event the client becomes disabled, incapacitated, or passes away. We work with our clients to combine wills, trusts, beneficiary designations, powers of attorney, gifting strategies, financing arrangements, insurance, and/or other tools to help them meet their goals in the most cost effective way possible. Other ways we can assist include:
- Minimizing taxes, court fees, and other expenses for your loved ones and beneficiaries;
- Executing healthcare directives that provide clear guidance about your healthcare and medical wishes;
- Naming guardians to take care of minor children;
- Creating trusts for children or loved ones with special needs;
- Procuring proper life, disability, and long-term care insurance;
- Creating business succession and tax plans to ensure the longevity of a business.
If you do not create an estate plan ahead of your death, your estate is distributed according to default state statutes and laws. This means that your spouse, children, or other loved ones may not be provided for in the way you would have wanted.
To reiterate, everyone, not just the wealthy, can benefit from proper estate planning. In fact, it is the families with moderate assets that often benefit the most, because they have the most to lose in the event of disability, incapacitation, or untimely death. You should start thinking about an estate plan early and update it regularly throughout the course of your life.
What Does an Elder Law Attorney Do?
As previously mentioned, elder law is very broad term and encompasses many different areas of the law. Our life-care planning model considers all the features of a person’s life in order to best plan for their necessities and wishes. It is never too early to proactively plan for your concerns, dreams, expectations, and preferences. We represent, counsel, and assist individuals across many areas including:
- Estate planning, including healthcare and financial decision making;
- Conservatorship / guardianship issues;
- Receiving Medicaid, Medicare, Veterans, and/or Social Security benefits;
- Retirement income planning;
- Disability planning;
- Housing and financial concerns;
- Unlawful age discrimination; and
- Elder abuse and neglect, including abuse in nursing homes.
Prudent decision-making today will mean easier decision making later. People, understandably get overwhelmed and are caught off guard when they or a loved one becomes ill and needs specialized care. Nursing homes can cost upwards of $80,000.00 a year. Where do you start? Too many caretakers and seniors exhaust their savings and retirement accounts because they believe they have no other way to pay for care. Planning ahead will provide a better and often less expensive alternative. You never know when you or a loved one will get too sick to make decisions or live independently and medical costs can quickly add up.
Elder Law and Estate Planning: “Our Family, Helping Your Family, Through the Journey of Life.”
It may be helpful to point out how the difference between elder law and estate planning function in practice. Both estate planning attorneys and elder law attorneys focus on protecting their client’s personal life goals. Both can also properly draft a will, power of attorney, living will, and health care proxy — but an elder law attorney also encourages prudent financial choices, holds caregivers accountable for errors, or fights against nursing home abuse and neglect.
Contact us today! Our professional team of attorneys, certified financial planners, and tax experts have over 17 years of legal experience and over 20 years of financial and tax planning experience. We look forward to helping you achieve your goals.