Elder law is a specialty area of legal practice that involves understanding and meeting the unique needs of elder clients and their families. The main difference between estate planning attorneys and elder law attorneys is that elder law attorneys focus on planning for a wide variety of “later-in-life” or “end-of-life” needs, whereas estate planning attorneys focus on planning for after death.
There is some overlap between what elder law and estate planning attorneys do, but there are important differences in why they do it. An estate planning attorney may be primarily concerned with determining post-distribution of assets, tax planning and probate avoidance – in other words, answering the question, “How do I make things as easy as possible for my loved ones after I die?”
An elder law attorney is just as concerned with those issues and that question, but also takes into consideration a bigger, more difficult question: “How do I make things as easy as possible for my loved ones if I require expensive skilled nursing care and need to rely on others for assistance, either temporarily or on a permanent basis?” A long-term care plan prepared by an elder law attorney can help answer both questions.
If you have a level of assets sufficient to pay for long-term care under any scenario without running out of funds, then an estate planning attorney can meet all your needs and answer all your questions. If, however, you cannot afford $180,000 or more per year cost of nursing home care indefinitely ($360,000 for a married couple), then an elder law attorney should be consulted. The question of how to pay the escalating costs of long-term care affects people all along the economic spectrum and an elder law attorney has a unique answer for each person based on their place on that spectrum. There are no cookie cutter solutions, but solutions do exist, and an elder law attorney can implement those solutions.
An estate planning attorney will not be able to tell you what to do if, after an estate plan is in place, one spouse needs long-term care while the other spouse remains at home. An elder law attorney can solve that problem, as well as address the question that may come later – what to do if both spouses require long-term care.
An elder law attorney can navigate the maze that is Medicaid (which is only becoming more complicated and unpredictable) so that you can afford the care you need while preserving assets to leave behind. Not only that, but an elder law attorney is knowledgeable and helpful concerning the day-to-day issues affecting care for seniors and their families. Whatever problem you’re facing or questions you have, an elder law attorney can answer based on not only legal knowledge and experience, but on experience helping clients and their families through the same situation you find yourself in. An elder law attorney knows the right questions to ask and can direct you to solutions.
Experienced elder law attorneys understand the needs of clients and their families during what is almost always an emotionally, financially and logistically difficult period in life – entering long-term care or making the decision to place a loved one in a nursing home. Experienced elder law attorneys understand that it is overwhelming and draining because we‘ve been there before. Elder law attorneys and Medicaid coordinators have relationships with just about every long-term care facility in the area – many even make recommendations. It’s never too late to get your ducks in a row, and an elder law attorney can meet you at whatever stage of the elder care journey you’re on.