I get asked, “What exactly do elder law attorneys do?” all the time. My answer could go on forever. However, briefly stated, elder law attorneys like myself focus on “senior” estate planning (in addition to traditional estate planning) longevity planning (aka long-term care planning), Medicaid, Medicare, special needs trusts, and VA benefits for those over the age of 65.
Many people assume that an elder law attorney’s area of expertise is strictly wills and trusts. Wills and trusts are certainly part of the equation, but the truth is there is so much more to elder law. Here’s something else you may not know: wills really only control what happens after you die. Therefore, today’s seniors need both an estate and a longevity plan because both combined will help their families know what their wishes are in the event that they become incapacitated before they die.
Elder law is still very different in comparison to traditional estate planning (death planning). A traditional estate plan is designed to do the following things:
- Minimize estate taxes
- Avoid probate court
- Distribute assets from the deceased person to his or her heirs
Elder law, however, is essentially death planning plus long-term disability and care planning (longevity planning). So, an elder law attorney is not only thinking about what happens in the event of your death, but also about your long-term health needs during your lifetime.
Today, it is typical to see families spending thousands upon thousands of dollars ($8,000-10,000) when both a husband and wife have long-term care needs. The operative goal of an elder law attorney is to help families protect their assets during their lifetime, to avoid spending all of that money.
Remember: Elder law attorneys are here to maintain your current quality of life as much as possible on the long term care continuum, make sure you do not go broke in a nursing home and not just decide what your kids inherit after you pass away.
-Anthony B. Ferraro