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Elder Law and Estate Planning – What is the Difference?

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By Hannah Rush
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Elder law and estate planning are two separate areas of the legal profession. They are both important aspects of a well-rounded plan to protect your assets and your family in the event of your death or incapacity.

A common question is, “What is the difference between estate planning and elder law?” The answer is that, while both areas of law address aging, illness, incapacity, and estates, they are very different from one another.

In short, an estate plan is a written document that outlines the way you want your assets and other possessions to be distributed after your death. It includes your last will and testament, power of attorney for financial decisions, and health care directives. It also addresses who you would like to name as guardians of your children or pets, and as trustees of your trust if you become mentally incapacitated.

An elder law plan, by contrast, is a more comprehensive plan that considers the needs of older adults and their loved ones as they age. It covers issues such as long-term care, home health care, assisted living facilities, and the Medicaid application process.

While estate planning focuses on the management and distribution of an individual’s assets after death, an elder law plan considers the preservation of those same assets for use in a later life. That’s why it’s critical to begin thinking about your elder law needs at an early age, and not wait until you’re older.

Regardless of your age, you can start addressing your elder law needs by choosing an elder law attorney to help you prepare a plan for your long-term care needs. Having this type of plan in place will ensure that your wishes are met and your loved ones don’t have to go through a difficult and confusing ordeal if you should die suddenly, or become incapacitated.

Most people have a last will and testament in place, but it doesn’t cover the full range of planning for your health and finances. That’s why it’s important to speak with an experienced attorney about the many different types of estate planning documents that may be right for you, including living wills, powers of attorney, and trusts.

A trust is a legally binding agreement that specifies how assets will be distributed after your death. In addition, a trust designates a person, called the trustee, who will manage the assets in the trust until they are distributed to the beneficiaries or heirs of your choice.

There are many ways a trustee can make decisions on your behalf when you aren’t around, and an elder law lawyer is the best choice for guiding you through this complicated process.

It’s also helpful to have a will and other estate planning documents in place so that you don’t have to deal with a costly and lengthy probate court process when it comes time to distribute your assets. If you have minor children, it’s even more important to have a will.

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