May Is National Elder Law Month—Do You Have Your Plans in Place?

May 16, 2024 | Estates Planning and Asset Protection

May is National Elder Law Month! While the observance isn’t typically met with a great deal of fanfare (alas, there are no greeting cards for this occasion at Target), it’s a good reminder for all of us to stop and think about what kind of care we’d like in our later years. 

It’s also a chance to consider what steps we can take to make those plans a reality. 

What is elder law, and why is it important? 

Elder law is often confused with estate planning, but while the two areas of law are similar, they serve distinct purposes. 

The focus of elder law is to support older persons and those with special needs with the legal aspects of: 

  • Health and long-term care planning
  • Benefit programs
  • Incapacity planning and guardianship
  • Managing one’s estate

But just as elder law helps you plan for your future, it also helps you protect yourself. Elder law helps protect the rights and interests of individuals as they age, establishing measures to safeguard them against elder abuse. 

Putting an elder law plan in place

Elder law involves numerous activities, often overlapping with estate planning. The two aren’t mutually exclusive! A good estate plan helps individuals consider their goals as they age, not just what they want after they pass—and vice versa. 

But for those looking to consider elder law plans specifically, here are three steps you can take. 

1. Start your long-term care planning

Long-term care planning is central to elder law and elder planning. It’s best to establish a long-term care plan well before you need it so you and your loved ones will know exactly what to do if you become incapacitated. This can involve all of the following.

Creating life estates

An enhanced life estate deed (also called a Lady Bird Deed) allows you to transfer property ownership to someone else (the remainderman) while retaining the right to live on it for the rest of your life and even lease, mortgage, and sell it without the remainderman’s consent. It also helps protect your property from creditors and avoid probate.

Establishing trusts to fund care

Trusts come in all shapes and sizes. They’re a very flexible estate planning tool. They’re also helpful in elder law. 

Multiple trusts are available to help cover the costs of long-term care with programs like Medicaid, including special needs trusts), and qualified income trusts (aka Miller trusts).

Medicaid planning

This involves creating a plan for restructuring your finances and transferring assets to qualify for Medicaid so you can get assistance with expensive long-term care costs—without losing your home or unnecessarily spending down assets.

On a positive note, you’ll also choose where and how you want to receive care, whether that’s in an assisted living facility, nursing home, or personal care home.

No matter your preference, having clear, transparent conversations with your family and working with an elder law attorney to create detailed plans now will protect you and keep your loved ones from scrambling to figure everything out during a crisis. 

2. Consider what you want retirement to look like

Once you’ve outlined your long-term care goals and plans, it’s time to consider your retirement plan. A strategic retirement plan will help you maximize your assets and benefits. 

A retirement plan is highly dependent on your specific situation, but it can include components like:

  • Life insurance policies
  • Retirement accounts
  • Payable-on-death bank accounts
  • Social Security strategy
  • Investment strategy and diversification
  • Debt management plan
  • Tax-efficient withdrawal strategy

But don’t just stop at the legalities—make sure you also develop a plan for your lifestyle goals, whether that’s traveling, spending time with family and friends, or pursuing your favorite hobbies. 

After all, what’s the point of retirement if you can’t enjoy it?

A financial advisor or retirement planner can create and implement a tailored retirement plan that helps you meet those goals so you can have the best retirement possible. 

3. Establish goals for your estate plan

While elder law and retirement planning generally deal with your goals for your lifetime, estate planning deals with what happens after you pass away. It’s like a continuation of your elder plan so you can secure your legacy and care for your family for generations to come. 

Just like your retirement plan, your estate plan will be highly dependent on your specific situation. That being said, estate plans generally include several components:

Last will and testament

This document details how you want your assets to be distributed after you pass away and names an executor who’ll carry out your wishes and manage estate administration.

Trusts

These legal arrangements allow a third party, or trustee, to hold assets on behalf of beneficiaries. Trusts can help you minimize estate taxes, avoid the probate process, or make sure minor children or individuals with special needs are cared for properly.

Durable powers of attorney (POAs)

Durable powers of attorney appoint someone (known as your agent or attorney-in-fact) to make financial or property decisions for you if you become incapacitated. 

Healthcare POA

Much like durable POAs, the healthcare POA designates someone to make healthcare decisions for you if you can’t do so yourself.

A living will

Also known as an advance directive, this document expresses your wishes regarding end-of-life medical treatment if you can’t communicate them yourself.

You may also include a letter of instruction. Though it’s not legally binding, it can guide family members or executors about important preferences not covered in your will, including funeral wishes, the location of important documents, and how to manage your digital assets. 

As always, it’s best to work with an estate planning attorney or elder law attorney experienced in estate planning to create a comprehensive, tailored plan that’ll hold up in court.

Plan for a secure future with an experienced Texas elder law attorney

While National Elder Law Month is only once a year, your elder law plans should be ongoing. The good news is that you don’t have to go it alone. 

An experienced elder law attorney like those here at the law firm of Shann M. Chaudhry Esq., Attorney at Law, PLLC, can help you make informed decisions, advocate for your best interests, and create a plan tailored to your unique needs.

We understand the challenges and concerns you face as you plan for the future, and we’re here to help you create compliant long-term care and retirement plans. We also have years of experience in estate law and can assist you in planning your estate. 

Contact us to book your consultation and see how we can help you secure your golden years.

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