While most people have a general idea about the nature of estate planning, clients are often unsure about the difference between a traditional estate planning attorney and an elder law attorney. The best way to describe the difference is that an elder law attorney is like an estate planning attorney on steroids. Not only will an elder law attorney be able to create wills, trusts, powers of attorney and medical directives, but they will do so with an emphasis on longevity and the need to address issues that arise as one grows older.
Estate planning attorneys are mainly interested in death and taxes. Proper planning with an elder law attorney is vital to ensure that you get the medical care you need in your later years without depleting the wealth that you have worked so hard to obtain. Read on for a discussion of some of the most important facets of elder law and why retaining a seasoned San Diego Elder Law Attorney is an essential part of planning for your future.
Elder law and estate planning are related areas of law, but they are far from the same thing. Whereas estate planning is concerned with what happens after you die, elder law is about quality of life as you grow older, what will happen if you need care with your finances and daily living activities before you pass, how you can protect your assets for yourself, and then when the time is appropriate, passing your property and assets to the ones you love in such a way that it will be protected for them even if they have health issues themselves, money problems or failed marriages.
Estate plans typically have three goals: (1) minimize estate tax; (2) avoid probate court; (3) distribute your assets. Estate plans, and by extension estate planning attorneys who do not specialize in elder law, often do not account for things like paying for long-term care if the need arises, dealing with long-term medical incapacity, or ensuring the care of children or other dependents who become disabled or have special needs.
A dedicated elder law attorney will make sure you and your family are secure while you are still alive, not just after you pass away. Estate planning attorneys may throw in suggestions for end-of-life care, but when you are planning for your life in your advanced years, you need someone who has focused their practice on elder law as a separate field, not simply as a tangent to estate planning.
Make Long-term Care Decisions
An elder law attorney is vital to helping you prepare for your long-term care. Long-term care costs can be exorbitant, costing thousands or tens of thousands of dollars a month. An elder law attorney can help you create a plan that will protect assets for your family – including your spouse – if long-term care costs start to deplete your savings. This will include consideration of various ways to pay for long-term care, including whether it makes sense to purchase a long-term care insurance policy and which policy and options make sense if you decide to do so.
Creation of Special Needs Trusts
An elder law attorney will normally be quite versed in special needs trust planning. Special needs trusts are trusts that will maintain eligibility for public benefits such as SSI, Medicaid/Medi-Cal, Section 8, etc. There are many different types of special needs trusts, and choosing the right type is essential.
A seasoned elder law attorney will also help ensure that your affairs are in order should you become incapacitated due to age, injury, or illness. Simple, form powers of attorney and trusts can be inflexible and may not account for changes in your health status or the law. An elder law attorney will work with you to develop a tailored long-term care plan that reflects your current and future needs, anticipates future medical care and other assistance, and ensures that you and your family are well taken care of in the event of incapacity.
Maintain Eligibility for Governmental Assistance Programs
When planning for long-term care, many people ultimately rely on needs-based governmental programs such as Medi-Cal/Medicaid. Long-term care is expensive, and elderly folks and their families can go bankrupt trying to pay for a nursing home or at-home care.
Medicaid/Medi-Cal will pay for long-term care, but the rules surrounding eligibility are complicated, and there are many traps for the unwary. By the same token, there are many strategies to accelerate eligibility and save potentially tens of thousands of dollars utilized by those elder law attorneys who are well-versed in this area of law. Trying to save money responsibly over the years, or getting an unexpected inheritance, can help with retirement but then ruin eligibility for public benefits. An elder law attorney can help you balance the twin aims of maintaining needs-based eligibility for yourself or a dependent, while still protecting your income and assets for yourself and your family.
For help planning for your future and protecting the well-being of your family, call the California elder law and estate planning attorney Vincent M. Casiano, Esq. Call Mr. Casiano at his San Diego law office today at 619-493-3610 for a no-fee phone consultation to see if he can help your family.