May is National Elder Law Month
“Elder Law” is a niche area of Estate Planning that has developed as a result of the ever-growing senior citizen population in America. Due to increasing longevity and cost of care, traditional retirement planning may not address all of the potentialities many of our senior citizens will face in their lifetime. A complete “Elder Law” plan should include mechanisms for nominating decision-makers and organizing assets to accomplish the specific objectives of the individual.
A Durable Property Power of Attorney (e.g. General Power of Attorney) enables an individual to nominate an agent to manage finances and property in the event of incapacity. Additionally, this document may be tailored to the specific needs of the principal to include an immediate grant of authority and/or a broader scope of powers. An Elder Law Attorney will often advise the inclusion more robust powers, such as gifting and establishing Irrevocable Trusts, in addition to the general powers that are typically found in a standard Power of Attorney.
A Health Care Power of Attorney enables an individual to nominate an agent to make medical decisions in the event of incapacity or inability to communicate. A health care agent is authorized to access medical records and speak with medical professionals on the principal’s behalf. This document is often accompanied by a Living Will that designates the principal’s treatment preferences in the event that a terminal condition or state of permanent unconsciousness develops.
In appropriate circumstances, an “Elder Law” Attorney can establish a Trust to accomplish a number of goals, including probate avoidance, preservation of assets from being consumed by long-term care expenses, sheltering assets from financial predators, providing for special needs beneficiaries, and insulating assets from a beneficiary’s creditors after the Grantor’s death (e.g. divorce, bankruptcy, spendthrift, lawsuit).
A Trust is a complex instrument that can be molded to the client’s needs and planning goals. In some cases, a Revocable Trust may be sufficient to avoid probate, protect death-time beneficiaries, and simplify the transfer of assets upon death; however, an Irrevocable Trust is often necessary to protect assets from creditors and shelter assets from being consumed by long-term care expenses.
“Elder Law” Attorneys are equipped to assist individuals and families with developing a plan to nominate decision-makers, organize assets to facilitate a smooth transition upon death, and preserve assets from being consumed by long term care costs during their lifetime. Accordingly, families who are facing these complicated and overwhelming issues should seek the guidance of a competent “Elder Law” Attorney to navigate these treacherous waters and come up with an effective plan of action.