Disability & Retirement Planning
Clients often ask how “Elder Law” differs from traditional estate planning. Whereas the estate planner and accountant help the client plan his or her estate, the elder law practitioner counsels the client on how to live his or her remaining years in dignity. Proper retirement planning includes a focus on Elder Law that concentrates primarily on the person, the elder, and the type of life he or she desires, and only secondarily on his or her estate.
After the elder law attorney and client have completed their work, legal documents have been drafted, tax considerations have been discussed and analyzed, and a plan to protect the elder’s estate has been implemented.
How Can an Elder Law Attorney Assist Me?
Elder Law is intended to broadly assist “extended living.” An elder law practitioner provides the legal information necessary for persons whose lives will extend or have already extended beyond the time when all children are usually out of the house and when regular employment ceases.
The elder law attorney can assist in filing claims and obtaining benefits for Social Security, Supplemental Social Security Income, Medicare, Medicaid, Veteran’s benefits and food stamps. Additionally, if you were the target of age discrimination, elder abuse, or your rights as a nursing home resident were violated, the elder law attorney must be consulted.
What Legal Documents Should I Have?
To protect oneself and one’s family in the event of death, disease or disaster, every senior citizen should have each of the following: a Will, a Durable Power of Attorney, a Health Care Proxy, a Living Will and a Financial Inventory.
A Will is a legal document that takes effect upon the death of the will maker. If properly drafted and executed, the will is probated and the decedent’s assets distributed according to his or her wishes. It is strongly recommended that each individual periodically update his or her will.
A Power of Attorney is a legal instrument in which a principal grants authority to an agent to manage the financial and personal affairs of the principal in the event of incapacity. A “durable” power of attorney takes effect immediately upon signature, while a “springing” power of attorney takes effect only upon the principal’s incapacity. Both documents end at the death of the principal. Spending a few moments now during competence can save thousands of dollars in court costs later when an action for guardianship or conservatorship is brought.
A Health Care Proxy authorizes someone to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are temporarily or permanently unable to do so. It is usually coupled with a living will in which you indicate the type of care you would want if you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious. A Living Will allows you to spell out your personal wishes as it relates to medical assistance. If properly drafted, these documents will minimize family squabbles and will largely reduce the amount of controversy surrounding your medical treatment.
It is also important to maintain a personal Financial Inventory that lists your professional advisers, insurance policies, and investment accounts. Some of the items that should be recorded include: the names and phone numbers of your attorney, your accountant, and investment consultant; the location of important documents such as your will, property deeds, and power of attorney; and a list with account numbers of insurance policies, bank accounts, and investment accounts.
If I Need Nursing Home Care, What Alternatives are Available to Help Pay These Expenses?
On the average, nursing home expenses in New Jersey exceed $100,000 a year. Four primary resources are available to help pay for these skyrocketing nursing home costs. They include long term nursing home insurance, private pay, Medicare, and Medicaid. Proper estate planning is critical to ensure that you qualify for government programs like Medicaid so that the nursing home costs are paid by the government and not by you. If so, your assets will remain protected, and can instead be distributed to your spouse, children, or favorite charity as you see fit.