Not all estate planners are elder law attorneys

The Crucial Divide: Estate Planning vs. Elder Law

This is a topic that's close to my heart and crucial for anyone navigating the complexities of planning for the future. It's about understanding the fine line between estate planning and elder law – and trust me, it's not just legal jargon. It's the difference between safeguarding your future and potentially stumbling into pitfalls.

Some estate planning lawyers are also elder attorneys. But SOME are NOT! Never confuse the two, or you could be setting yourself up for big problems and a major loss of assets.

If your estate planner isn’t also an elder law attorney, do NOT go to that lawyer for elder planning. Most of the time, those attorneys mean well, and are just trying to help. But what they don’t know CAN hurt you – in the form of unprotected assets and Medicaid liens. I’ve seen it happen.

Mary’s Story

Mary came to see me about two years ago. She wanted to revise a revocable trust she had done years before. She wasn’t worried about protecting her home from long-term care because she told me “my house is already in a trust, and it’s been in there for over 5 years so we’ve passed the five-year look back already. My home is protected.”

To be thorough, I told Mary I should still review her trust. Well about two pages in, I knew I had some bad news for Mary. The trust provided absolutely no long-term care protection whatsoever. Not only hadn’t she surpassed the five-year lookback, but the look-back period never even started because the trust was the wrong type. I had to be the bearer of bad news, and Mary was so upset. She was crying in my conference room while I explained everything and advised that we could do the correct type of trust now, but the 5 year clock was going to start now, under the new trust.

Mary was the victim of an attorney who was just trying to help. He was trying to do her a favor, and figured he’d help her protect her home. What he had done, unknowingly, was assured that her home would be available for Medicaid liens. We had to start over, and all of that elapsed time was lost. You see, the attorney wasn’t an elder law lawyer. Luckily, I am (well, it's not luck, it was a lot of hard work) and I was able to fix things before any damage was done.

Estate Planning: Setting the Stage

Think of estate planning as setting the stage for what happens to your assets after you're gone. It's about wills, trusts, and making sure your loved ones are taken care of. But here's the kicker – it's often looking at the here and now, not necessarily the long road ahead that involves aging, health care needs, and yes, the ever-looming presence of long-term care costs. Traditional estate planning stops here. It’s elder law attorneys and wealth preservation attorneys who take the next steps.

Elder Law: Navigating the Long Road

Enter elder law. This isn't just another legal field; it's your guide through the aging process. It's knowing the ins and outs of Medicaid rules, how to protect your hard-earned assets from being devoured by long-term care costs, and figuring out how to actually pay for the care you or your loved ones will need. Elder law isn't just planning for the end; it's making the journey there as smooth as possible.

At our seminars, Whenever I ask clients if they want to go to a nursing home, the answer is always an emphatic “No.” But when I ask if they want to stay home, and if so, have they determined how they will pay for in-home care, the answer is usually “No” as well. An elder law attorney will help you change that answer to a Yes.

Why Mixing Them Up Spells Trouble

Here's where things get tricky. All estate planners aren't created equal. While many can draft a will with their eyes closed, not all have the intricate knowledge of elder law needed to navigate the challenges of aging. And when a non-elder law attorney steps into elder law territory, even with the best intentions, they might do more harm than good. Using the wrong trusts or missing the nuances of Medicaid could not just ruffle some feathers; it could jeopardize your future care and financial security.

Don't Gamble with Your Future

The moral of the story? Don't let an estate planner without elder law expertise guide you on elder issues. It's like asking a general practitioner to perform specialized surgery – they might know the basics, but you really want a specialist with the right tools and knowledge. You wouldn’t trust your heart surgery to a back surgeon would you?

Estate planning and elder law might share some common ground, but they're playing in different leagues. Understanding this difference can mean everything when it comes to protecting what matters most. So, when you're looking for guidance on these issues, make sure you're turning to someone who knows the terrain inside out – an elder law attorney. Even if you have a trust, get it reviewd if you have long-term care or elder law questions.

To learn more about paying for long-term care, download our free guide HERE: Mike's Long Term Care Guide

Michael Monteforte, Jr.
Connect with me
People come to me in trying times and when I tell them I can help them, the weight falls off their shoulders.
Post A Comment