By Jessica L. Estes
Ever wonder what “Elder Law” is? Most people think that if you are 65 or older, it is called Elder Law and if you are younger than 65, it is called Estate Planning. The real difference, though, is the focus of the representation.
Generally, the focus of estate planning is to make sure you have legal documents in place that provide the following: (1) the ability to control your property while you are alive and able, (2) planning for you and your loved ones should you become disabled, and (3) after you die, making sure your assets go to the people you love without unnecessary cost or delay. Usually, these documents include financial and health care powers of attorney, advance directives or living wills, last will and testaments and perhaps, trusts.
Elder law, on the other hand, focuses on long-term care planning and how to pay for it. Long-term care is required when an individual is unable to perform the basic activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, eating, toileting, walking and transferring, for a period exceeding thirty days. Long-term care can include homecare, adult daycare, respite care and assisted living or nursing home services. And, in this area, those types of costs can be daunting – more than $100,000 per year, and most people simply cannot afford to pay that.
Moreover, one might require long-term care, but be under the age of 65. For example, if you have a child or a younger adult who is disabled and requires long-term care, most likely you would want to consult an Elder Law attorney to determine what, if any, benefits are available to help pay for that care even though the disabled person may not be elderly.
Not only can an Elder Law attorney advise a client about public benefits (including Medicaid and Veteran’s benefits) that may be available to help pay for long-term care, but they can also assist with the qualification and application process. As part of this process, Elder law attorneys often engage in asset preservation to protect a client’s assets from the high costs of long-term care. This is especially true if there is a dependent spouse or child at home, or if the individual does not have long-term care insurance to help pay those costs.
Finally, Elder Law also encompasses special needs planning. Elder law attorneys are well-versed in the different types of special needs trust that may be available to a disabled individual and can advise which option is the best for a particular client. So, Elder Law is not just for the elderly!