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Estate Planning vs. Elder Law

Estate Planning vs. Elder Law

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By Doug Sisson, W M Law Probate and Bankruptcy Paralegal

Many clients and even attorneys are perplexed by the differences between estate planning and elder law.  Not all estate planning requires elder law, and elder law does not always require estate planning.  So, what’s the difference?

Estate PlanningWhat happens if I die?

An estate plan determines who, when, and how assets are divided upon your passing.  This is assuming you have assets left to distribute at the end of life. Any myriad of events could happen to you or loved ones between the creation of an estate plan and one’s passing – personal injury, mental incapacitation, inheriting other assets, becoming permanently disabled etc. etc.

Elder Law – focuses on the opposite, what happens if I live?  

The best estate plan in the world can’t protect against all the “what-ifs” that happen while you are still alive.  Elder law helps you stay in control as you age which entails everything from your healthcare decisions, to how you pay for a care, preservation of money now, income and assets, and what can be used for your benefit and care while you’re still alive.

So which do I need?  It really boils down to: is your asset level at a point you can comfortably retire and cover all expenses on your own?

If you have an asset level you are confident will afford all future medical and life expenses, then you’re likely safe with an estate plan.  Yet an estate plan cannot cover all the happenings while you age.

If, however, you are not certain you will be able to afford medical and living expenses the remainder of your life you’ll likely need an elder law attorney who can help guide you planning intended consequences, steps for qualifying and maintaining Medicare/Medicaid and other government assistance, how you pay for a nursing home while also maintaining who makes what medical and financial decisions for you.

An estate plan will cover a fraction of these decisions while still alive, and primary only takes affect after passing.  While an elder law attorney can advise on what you should do now, to ensure a safe future later.  Planning is good, but the question remains, are you planning for late life decisions, or after-life decisions?