Comparing Elder Law and Estate Planning — What’s the Difference?

Senior couple looking at documentsElder Law and Estate Planning serve two different functions, yet they are both equally important. One thing that sets them apart is that Elder Law concentrates on preserving your assets while you are alive, while Estate Planning focuses on what happens to your assets after you die. The Farr Law Firm consists of both highly experienced Elder Law attorneys (also called Elder Care attorneys) and Estate Planning lawyers in our Fairfax, Fredericksburg, Rockville, and Washington, DC, locations. There is some overlap between what Elder Care lawyers and Estate Planning attorneys do, but there are also important differences.

What Is Elder Law Planning?

Elder Law is a very broad area of law, and it encompasses many focuses, including Estate Planning and Special Needs Planning. So Elder Law includes Estate Planning under its umbrella, but Elder Law goes much further.

People are living longer, healthier lives. Along with longevity comes planning in advance for the financial and health concerns that occur as we age. For example, more people are thinking ahead and thoughtfully planning out their lives, whether that means budgeting finances for retirement, understanding veterans’ benefits, or figuring out how to afford the catastrophically expensive costs of long-term care, which 70 percent of people over age 65 will eventually need.

Elder Law, unlike Estate Planning, involves anticipating future long-term care needs and ensuring that seniors age with dignity, respect, and the best quality of life. The following are among the most important elements in an Elder Law practice, that are all absent from a practice that only does Estate Planning:

  • Life Care Planning is a process and a key component of what we do as elder lawyers at the Farr Law Firm. This type of planning helps to ensure that you or your loved one gets the best possible care and maintains the highest possible quality of life, whether at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home.
  • Medicaid Asset Protection (which we also call Level 4 Planning) done after someone has started down the “Elder Care Continuum / Aging Journey,” helps families protect assets and obtain Medicaid assistance as quickly as possible to help pay for nursing home care without having to deplete their life savings. Many people don’t know where to start when considering how to pay for nursing homes or protecting finances. Nursing homes can cost $12,000 – $17,000 or more per month in the DC Metro area. At the Farr Law Firm, we help our clients protect their assets while maintaining their comfort, dignity, and quality of life. We do this by helping to ensure eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance.
  • Our Living Trust Plus® Asset Protection Trust (part of Level 3 Planning) is a simpler and less expensive method of asset protection for clients who will most likely not need any long-term care support or services for at least five years.

What Are Other Ways an Elder Law Attorney Can Assist Clients?

Experienced Elder Law attorneys, such as those at the Farr Law Firm, assist clients in many ways, including:

  • Planning for and assisting with obtaining Medicaid, Medicare, and Veterans Benefits for persons at home or in an assisted living or nursing home. This includes:
    • Developing a plan to pay for future care.
    • Ethically and legally qualifying for the extremely complex benefits of Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance to help pay for the catastrophically expensive costs of long-term home care.
    • Navigating the complex mazes of Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance so that you can afford the care you need while preserving assets to leave behind.
  • Advising and drafting of financial and health care powers of attorney, revocable living trusts, and Living Trust Plus® Asset Protection Trust. These are some of the areas where Elder Law and Estate Planning are closely intertwined.
  • Assisting with fiduciary representation, including seeking the appointment of and advising guardians, conservators, trustees, executors, representative payees, and those acting as agents under powers of attorney.
  • Assisting those with dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases who will face unique challenges when it comes to family, work, finances, and future care.
  • Helping families who face special legal and financial needs plan for long-term care.
  • Helping to protect you from elder abuse or exploitation when you get older or become incapacitated.
  • Advising how capacity is evaluated and the level of capacity required for decision-making and representing those who need to seek guardianship and/or conservatorship over another person because that person failed to do basic Level 1 Incapacity Planning.
  • Maximizing Social Security, pension, IRA, 401(k), 403(b), and retiree health benefits.
  • Offering advice concerning continuing care retirement communities, assisted living facilities, home equity conversion (reverse mortgages), and living with family members.
  • Providing counseling regarding admission contracts, quality of care, and transfer and discharge from nursing homes and/or assisted living facilities.
  • Determining benefit eligibility, discussing medical care contingency plans, and helping you understand your rights as a resident of a care facility.
  • Handling and finding solutions for the financial, physical, and emotional needs of clients who are thinking about life concerns and priorities for themselves and their loved ones.
  • Maintaining relationships with long-term care facilities in the areas we serve, including all of Virginia with a focus on Northern Virginia and Fredericksburg, Virginia and surrounding Counties, all of Maryland, and Washington, DC, and making helpful recommendations.

Experienced Elder Law attorneys are also knowledgeable and helpful concerning the day-to-day issues affecting care for seniors and their families. They provide legal knowledge and use their experience to answer clients’ questions and help direct them to the best solutions. Elder Care lawyers understand the needs of clients and their families during what is almost always an emotionally, financially, and logistically difficult period in life – entering long-term care or making the decision to place a loved one in a nursing home.

How Does Estate Planning Differ from Elder Law?

While Elder Law is focused on older adults and people of any age with special needs, Estate Planning is for people of all ages and abilities. In fact, every adult over the age of 18 can benefit from an estate plan or at least a basic incapacity plan using a power or attorney and advance directive. Estate planning attorneys discuss wills, Living Trust, beneficiary designations, powers of attorney, charitable trusts and life insurance trusts, and much more.

Estate Planning attorneys help clients in the following ways:

  • Documenting health care directives, including instructions on what should happen if you become disabled or incapacitated.
  • Determining what will happen to your assets after you die.
  • Helping to provide instructions regarding who gets what.
  • Documenting guardians for minor children and ensuring the right person will manage any inheritance.
  • Minimizing taxes and other expenses.
  • Planning for relatives with special needs without disqualifying them from government benefits. This overlaps with special needs planning, another service provided by Elder Law and Estate Planning attorneys.
  • Discussing insurance, including life insurance and long-term care insurance, whether traditional long-term care insurance or hybrid long-term care insurance.
  • Creating wills and trusts to make your wishes known.
  • Naming guardians for your young children or provisions for pets.
  • Avoiding probate and saving on estate taxes.
  • Revisiting and updating your estate plan over the years, as circumstances in life change — for example, marriages, divorces, births, and deaths, as well as changes in finances — which can all require updates to your estate plan.

The Relationship Between Elder Law and Estate Planning

As you can see, Elder Law and Estate Planning are different in many ways, but they go hand in hand and are both very important. The Farr Law Firm offers both comprehensive Elder Law and Estate Planning services to help all types of people at all ages to plan for themselves and their loved ones.

At the Farr Law Firm, we help clients protect their estates and communicate their wishes. We act as partners with our clients: listening, collaborating, and communicating about the best plan for each client’s special circumstances.

Life’s Changes Make Both Elder Law and Estate Planning Very Important

The issues you face as you age evolve throughout your life. Your needs and goals also change as time goes on: marriage, divorce, children, grandchildren, retirement, and illness are just some of the events that can affect your plan. Working with an Elder Law firm that is also an Estate Planning firm and establishing a long-term relationship with the firm is imperative for you at all stages of your life.

When you have a plan in place, you have peace of mind that you are well-protected, and that you’ve communicated to loved ones what to do should something happen to you. The key is to prepare your incapacity plan, estate plan, and even long-term care planning before you need it, because with all of life’s uncertainties, you never know when that day will come.

Elder Law and Estate Planning Provide Peace of Mind that Lasts a Lifetime

The attorneys at the Farr Law Firm can help you plan for yourself and your loved ones, regardless of age. By planning in advance, you can have the peace of mind of knowing that your wishes and your family’s needs will be adequately and properly addressed. If you or members of your family have not done Incapacity Planning, Estate Planning, or Long-term Care Planning, or if you have a loved one beginning to need more care than you can handle, please contact us as soon as possible to make an appointment:

Northern Virginia Elder Law: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg, VA Estate Lawyer: 540-479-1435
Rockville, MD Estate Planning: 301-519-8041
Washington, DC Elder Lawyer: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.