What is the Difference Between Elder Law and Estate Planning?

Jeremy AtwoodElder Law, Estate Planning

Senior couple looking at estate planning and elder law documents

When a new client comes to see us, they’re often eager to confirm their assets pass on to their heirs with as little as possible in taxes/other expenses. However, while prepping for a future you won’t live to see is important, you’ll also need to address the bigger, more difficult question: “What happens if I live but can’t take care of myself?”

That’s exactly where estate planning and elder law come in. 

Many elder law attorneys in Utah also specialize in estate planning, and the two often go hand in hand. This can make it a little difficult to differentiate one from the other. 

Don’t worry! In this blog, we’re breaking down the key differences between elder law and estate planning to give you a better understanding of the two areas.  

Let’s dive in! 

What is Elder Law?

As the name suggests, elder law revolves around safeguarding the elderly. Estate planning aside, it covers a wide range of legal issues, such as long-term care planning and protection from elder abuse

Elder law can cover a wide range of areas, including: 

  • Long-Term Care: Elder law attorneys assist in navigating long-term care options, such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and home care. They help seniors and their families understand the costs, benefits, and legal requirements associated with these choices. 
  • Medicaid and Medicare: These programs can be lifelines for seniors, but the rules and regulations are often baffling. Elder law attorneys in Utah help you understand eligibility, benefits, and planning to protect your assets while qualifying for these programs. 
  • Social Security and retirement benefits: Elder laws in Utah guarantee that seniors receive the benefits they’re entitled to, like Social Security and pensions. 
  • Elder abuse and neglect: Seniors are often easy targets for crime and discrimination. Elder law attorneys help protect them from abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation. 
  • Healthcare and end-of-life decisions: This includes setting up advance directives and living wills to ensure that a senior’s medical wishes are honored. 
  • Guardianship: In situations where seniors cannot make decisions for themselves, elder law attorneys can help establish legal guardianships, ensuring someone they trust looks out for their best interests. 

What is Estate Planning?

Estate planning in Utah refers to the proactive steps you can take regarding the division of your assets post-death. Think of it as a roadmap for those who survive you. An estate plan provides your heirs- as well as the courts- clear guidance on your final wishes. 

Unlike elder law (which only pertains to the elderly), estate planning applies to people of all ages. In fact, the sooner you start, the better. Sure, no one to think about their mortality in their twenties, but it’s essential to safeguard your loved ones. 

Your estate plan might change as your circumstances evolve. Hence, it’s crucial to keep revisiting it over the years. Marriages, divorces, births, deaths, and financial updates can call for tweaks to your wills/deeds.  

Generally, an estate plan may include the following: 

  • Wills and Trusts: Estate planning lawyers can help you draft wills and trusts to distribute your assets, property, and belongings according to your wishes. It’s all about providing for your heirs and ensuring your legacy endures. 
  • Probate Avoidance: A significant part of estate planning is setting things up, so your estate doesn’t get bogged down in probate court. Lawyers help you structure your estate to minimize this hassle. 
  • Minimizing Taxes: Estate planning can also help reduce the tax burden on your estate. 
  • Powers of Attorney: This component of estate planning designates someone to make financial or healthcare decisions for you if you become incapacitated. 

An estate plan begins with a conversation between a client and an attorney to determine the best strategies for their unique case. And while it’s technically possible to create one without an attorney, you’ll want to work with someone who has a wealth of experience in their corner. 

Why Understanding the Differences Matters

You can probably note the difference between elder law and estate planning by now. Elder law planning preserves your income and assets while you’re alive. It’s a comprehensive legal area that helps you plan for certain comforts later in life. Your elder law attorney in Utah can structure your finances, insurance policies, and other assets to pay your bills without burdening your family. 

An estate plan, on the other hand, prepares for your passing. It makes sure all your wishes are honored to the tee, and your wealth is adequately distributed among family, friends, or preferred charities. 

Here are a few other differences between the two.

1. Goals and Objectives

The goal of estate planning is to protect an individual’s rights by managing their finances according to their wishes after they pass. Estate planning documents can also cover healthcare decisions and appoint people responsible for those choices if the individual becomes incapacitated. 

Elder law focuses on enabling elderly seniors to maintain their quality of life through care plans, guardianships, and Medicare advice.

2. Timing

As mentioned, it’s best to start estate planning early in life. You can revisit and revamp your initial drafts as many times as you want, depending on your circumstances. 

Elder law is mostly associated with seniors, their health, and their finances. In other words, it’s a broader field that caters to the immediate and long-term needs of senior citizens.

3. Focus on Tax Issues

One of the primary differences between elder law and estate planning is the focus on tax issues. Estate planners help clients maximize their wealth by minimizing potential estate/inheritance taxes. In contrast, elder law focuses on long-term care concerns like qualifying for Medicaid or securing veteran benefits. 

Note that these two legal fields often overlap. When they do, you get a more comprehensive approach to senior well-being and future planning.

The Bottom Line

To conclude, we’d say estate planning and elder law are two sides of the same coin. Although no one likes to think about what happens after they die, estate planning is essential for protecting your loved ones when you’re no longer around. Meanwhile, without an elder law strategy, you might wind up spending your money on receiving healthcare, leaving little for your heirs.

Have more questions about elder law vs estate planning? The team at Jeremy Atwood would be happy to answer them! We’re here to shield your peace of mind and well-being. Get in touch with us today!