What Is the Difference Between Estate Planning and Elder Law?

Close up of hands of two mature grandparents making a heart shape with their fingers together. Concept for the Difference Between Estate Planning and Elder Law.

Attorneys who practice both estate planning and elder law draw on their specialized skills to help you accomplish significant life-centered goals both during your life and after death. While these two types of legal concerns are closely related and overlap, estate planning and elder law address different concerns and objectives.

Goals and Context of Estate Planning and Elder Law

Estate planning is the process of putting legal documents in place to distribute your estate after death and provide a plan for your finances and care in the event of incapacity. In contrast, elder law focuses on addressing concerns that arise later in life, including long-term care contingencies, access to government benefits (such as Medicaid), and prevention of elder exploitation and abuse.

Asset protection is a core goal of both estate planning and elder law, but the two types of legal concerns protect assets in completely different contexts. For an adult of any age, estate planning can ensure long-term financial security for yourself and your loved ones. It also prevents state law from controlling what happens if you pass away or become incapacitated. For seniors, elder law addresses crucial concerns during the later years of your life, while maximizing asset protection in the process.

Estate planning is a legal matter that everyone should focus on, beginning when you become a young adult. Your estate plan should be updated throughout your life to accommodate important changes in your circumstances that affect your estate planning goals.

Elder law concerns typically arise later in life and ideally should be addressed beginning in your 50s. While elder issues can be addressed at a later stage to some extent, there can be significant benefits to addressing the concerns before the related events actually occur.

For aging adults, estate planning and elder law work together to help you maintain the best possible quality of life in your later years, while preserving and protecting your assets and property for the benefit of your loved ones after you pass away. Addressing these legal concerns also makes certain that your own wishes take precedence over provisions of state law that apply if you fail to put the proper legal documents in place.

Estate Planning Basics

Putting an estate plan in place involves creating and executing specific legal documents that address your personal and financial circumstances. While every individual’s situation and estate plan are unique, a complete estate plan commonly includes certain types of legal documents. The contents of those documents are what makes your estate plan specifically suited to you.

A last will and testament is part of virtually every estate plan, although the role of the will differs, depending on whether the estate plan includes a trust. Many individuals choose to establish a trust, because a trust can provide asset protection that cannot be accomplished with a will.

Special considerations enter into determining the structure of an estate plan. For example, if you’re a grandparent concerned about providing for your grandkids, or you have a blended family, those circumstances need to be addressed as part of estate planning. Getting help from an experienced estate planning lawyer is the only way to make certain that your concerns and goals are fully addressed in your estate plan.

The estate planning documents that address incapacity contingencies (a durable power of attorney and an advance directive) also must be tailored to your specific circumstances and goals. Your attorney ensures that those legal documents provide exactly the protection you want and need.

Elder Law Basicselder law and estate planning

Elder law relates to concerns that are different from those included in estate planning. An elder law attorney helps you (or your senior loved one) address concerns involving the changes in health, financial, and family circumstances that naturally occur in the later years of life.

Long-term care planning and Medicaid planning are part of elder law. The extremely high cost of nursing home care makes it essential to address the potential need for long-term care in a facility before the need arises. Planning ahead for the contingency provides substantial benefits that may not be available if an aging senior does not address long-term care needs before it becomes necessary.

Elder law also helps seniors prevent financial abuse that may occur in later years. Tragically, caregivers, strangers, and even family members can try to take advantage of the vulnerability of an elder through deceit and fraud. An elder law attorney helps seniors create legal structures for their finances that prevent this type of abuse.

Protecting the family home is often a most significant concern for a senior. Depending on the circumstances, an elder law attorney can advise the senior what steps can be taken to protect the family home, particularly if the elder needs to enter a nursing home. If a senior receives Medicaid benefits, the attorney can help avoid Medicaid estate recovery with advance planning.

An elder law attorney can help with other late-in-life issues as well. In all cases, sound estate planning and elder law go hand-in-hand to provide the full protection that an aging adult needs and deserves.

Talk With Our Georgia Estate Planning and Elder Law Attorneys

In our Cartersville practice at Asset Protection & Elder Law of Georgia, we provide both estate planning and elder law services to clients throughout the communities northwest of Atlanta, including in Bartow County, Cobb County, Cherokee County, Gordon County, Floyd County and Paulding County. Call us at (770) 382-0984 or contact us through our online form.