We are often asked about the difference between estate planning and elder law. Although we believe that the two go hand-in-hand, there are important distinctions between them. One notable similarity, however, is that they are both more universal than they may seem at first glance: estate planning is not only for those with large estates and elder law is not exclusive to the elderly.
Estate planning focuses on an individual’s assets - how they should be held while the individual is still living, and how they should be distributed after that individual passes. An estate planning attorney can utilize tax-planning mechanisms to minimize estate taxes, as well as utilizing testamentary substitutes to minimize the cost of probate. Of paramount importance to many clients is the ability to make specific choices regarding the beneficiaries on each of his/her assets. With the help of an estate planning attorney, an individual can create a will or trust that reflects the client’s desires regarding how his/her estate should be allocated after his/her passing. Without a proper estate plan in place, assets will be distributed according to the strict requirements of law, which may run counter to the true wishes of the individual. Additionally, an estate planning attorney can provide a plan inclusive of the needs of minor children or family members with disabilities, so that each family is best provided for according to their unique and individual needs.
Elder law is a broad field that encompasses many distinct aspects of the law. As mentioned, it is not just for the elderly, and in fact the process can be most effective when initiated prior to advanced age. Elder law focuses on providing a plan to continue living according to one’s wishes as one ages, while remaining in good financial standing. Depending on the individual’s circumstances, this plan can include trusts, gifts to family members, the purchase of long-term care insurance in anticipation of potential future needs or qualifying for Medicaid benefits. Elder law planning also encompasses many of the estate planning tools, such as wills and trusts, as well as the necessity of a Power of Attorney to avoid the need for a Guardianship should the individual lose capacity at any point. A proper elder law plan should be a comprehensive, holistic plan, considering the specific needs of the individual and his/her future needs as he/she ages.
Attorneys practicing in the fields of estate planning and elder law share a common goal: to help the clients achieve their goals while preserving their assets for themselves and their loved ones. However, as mentioned, there are key differences in the practice of estate planning and elder law. It is important to reach out to a qualified elder care and/or estate planning attorney for assistance in ensuring that the future is appropriately planned for, both in terms of the preservation of assets and the ultimate distribution of those assets.
Ronald A. Fatoullah, Esq. is the principal of Ronald Fatoullah & Associates, a law firm that concentrates in elder law, estate planning, Medicaid planning, guardianships, estate administration, trusts, wills, and real estate. Eva Schwechter is an elder law attorney with the firm. The law firm can be reached at 718-261-1700, 516-466-4422, or toll free at 1-877-ELDER-LAW or 1-877-ESTATES. Mr. Fatoullah is also a partner with Brightside Advisors, a wealth management firm with offices in New York and Los Angeles.
By Ronald A. Fatoullah, Esq.
and Eva Schwechter, Esq.