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Exploring the similarities and differences between elder law and estate planning

by Legacy Plan
December 1, 2023

Elder law and estate planning are two common areas of legal practice that address the needs of aging populations. On the surface, they may seem interchangeable. However, elder law and estate planning have distinct differences in their focus and the services provided. Understanding these differences is key to securing the right assistance for your legal needs as you age.

What is the focus of elder law?

Elder law is a specialty area focusing on the legal issues impacting older adults. Elder law is a relatively new area of law. It began to emerge in the 1970s, as the baby boomer generation started to reach retirement age. Today, elder law is a booming industry, with thousands of lawyers across the country specializing in this area of law. An elder law attorney handles matters like:

  • Long-term care planning. This may involve assistance with Medicaid applications for nursing home coverage and evaluating long-term care insurance options.

  • Disability planning. Drafting powers of attorney and health care directives to designate financial and medical decision-makers in case of incapacity.

  • Public benefits counseling. Advising on eligibility and application processes for Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, veterans benefits and other entitlement programs.

  • Age discrimination. Representing older clients facing unfavorable treatment or illegal policies based on age.

  • Housing rights. Assisting with legal issues arising around relocation to senior communities or long-term care facilities.

  • Elder abuse prevention and recovery. Reporting, investigating and prosecuting physical, emotional or financial abuse of elderly individuals.

While elder law and estate planning share some common elements like powers of attorney and health care directives, elder law takes a wider view focused on legal issues affecting senior citizens daily. The specificity of estate planning zeroes in on asset transfer and wealth protection post-mortem or if incapacitated. Understanding these nuanced differences ensures you seek counsel from the appropriate legal professionals based on your needs as you age.

What is the focus of estate planning?

Power of attorney document

Estate planning deals specifically with transferring assets and property after death, avoiding probate as well as planning for potential incapacity, naming guardians for minor children and avoiding a court-appointed guardianship. Services provided may include:

  • Wills and trusts. Drafting legal documents to specify how assets should be managed and distributed and dictate inheritance wishes.

  • Financial powers of attorney. Appointing agents to manage financial affairs if a person becomes incapacitated.

  • Health care directives and medical powers of attorney. Specifying advanced medical wishes like end-of-life care preferences.

  • Probate administration and estate litigation. Navigating court processes for settling estates and resolving claims against assets.

  • Tax planning. Structuring inheritances and assets to minimize tax liabilities when passed to heirs.

The objective is crafting an effective comprehensive plan for preservation and transfer of assets in line with the estate owner's intentions and beneficiaries' needs.

As mentioned, estate planning is the process of making arrangements for the management and disposition of your property and affairs upon your death or incapacity. It can be as simple as naming a beneficiary in your will or as complex as setting up a trust.

There are many issues to consider when estate planning, such as how you want your assets to be distributed, who will manage your affairs and what happens if you become incapacitated. You may also want to consider age discrimination and how to protect your assets from creditors or long-term care costs.

One of the most important aspects of estate planning is choosing someone to manage your affairs if you become incapacitated. This can be done through a power of attorney and a successor trustee. A power of attorney is a legal document that gives someone else the authority to make decisions on your behalf. A trustee takes over management of trust assets upon your inability to do so.

You should also make arrangements for the care of your minor children in the event of your death. This can be done by nominating a guardian through your will.

Estate planning is an important process that everyone should go through. It can help you protect your assets and ensure that your wishes are carried out after your death.

How elder law and estate planning overlap

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There are many ways that elder law and estate planning overlap. For example, both fields of law deal with issues of asset protection. If you are concerned about protecting your assets from creditors or from being used to pay for long-term care, you will need to consult with an attorney who specializes in both elder law and estate planning. Another common issue that overlaps between the two fields is disability planning. If you become disabled, you will need to have a plan in place for how your medical and financial needs will be taken care of. This is something that both elder law and estate planning attorneys can help with.

Probate is another area where elder law and estate planning overlap. Probate is the legal process that is used to settle an estate after someone dies. If you have a will, the court will use it to distribute your assets according to your wishes. If you don't have a will, the court will use the state's laws of intestacy to determine how your assets should be distributed. Either way, an attorney who specializes in elder law and estate planning can help you navigate the probate process.

Elder law and estate planning are two important areas of the law that can have a big impact on your life. If you are dealing with any issues related to these fields, it is important to consult with an attorney who focuses on both.

Key areas of elder law

Elder law is a relatively new but growing area of law that focuses on the unique legal needs of older Americans. As our population ages, more and more people are finding themselves in need of legal assistance in areas such as Medicare and Medicaid planning, long-term care planning, estate planning and guardianship avoidance.

Seniors who are on Medicare or Medicaid may have specific legal rights and protections that they are not aware of. An experienced elder law attorney can help seniors navigate the complex rules and regulations surrounding these programs.

As we age, the likelihood of needing long-term care increases. Long-term care can be very expensive, so it’s important to plan ahead. An elder law attorney can help seniors understand their long-term care options and make the best possible decisions for their unique needs and situation.

In some cases, seniors may become unable to make decisions for themselves due to cognitive decline or other health issues. If this happens, a court may appoint a guardian to make decisions on the senior’s behalf. An elder law attorney can help seniors plan for the possibility of guardianship and make sure that their rights and wishes are respected.

These are just a few of the key areas of elder law that every senior should be aware of. If you or a loved one is in need of legal assistance in any of these areas, it’s important to consult with an experienced elder law attorney who can help you understand your rights and options.

The estate planning process

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When it comes to estate planning, there are a lot of different factors to consider. One of the most important things to think about is your legacy. What do you want to leave behind for your loved ones?

Another important factor to consider is how your estate will be distributed. Who will receive what assets? How can you ensure that your loved ones are taken care of after you're gone?

There are a lot of different ways to approach estate planning, and it can be overwhelming to try to figure it all out on your own. That's why it's a good idea to consult with a professional. A qualified estate planning attorney can help you figure out what's best for you and your family.

One of the best ways to ensure that your estate is distributed the way you want is to create a trust. A trust is a legal entity that can hold assets on behalf of beneficiaries. Trusts can be used for a variety of different purposes, but they're often used to distribute assets after someone dies.

Trusts are an important part of estate planning, but they're not the only tool available. There are also wills and trusts, which are two different but complementary legal documents.

Wills are primarily used to distribute assets, while trusts are used for a variety of purposes, including asset protection and estate tax planning. Trusts can also be used to distribute assets, but they have some advantages over wills.

For one thing, trusts can be created during your lifetime, which means that you can change them at any time. Wills, on the other hand, are only created when you die, and they can't be changed after that.

Trusts also offer more flexibility when it comes to distribution. With a will, you have to name specific individuals as beneficiaries. With a trust, you can name anyone you want as a beneficiary, including future generations.

Trusts also offer better asset protection. If you have assets in a trust, they're not subject to probate. That means that creditors and predators can't go after them.

Finally, trusts can be used for estate tax planning. If your estate is large enough, it could be subject to estate taxes. By putting assets in a trust, you can minimize or even avoid estate taxes altogether.

The estate planning process can be complex, but it doesn't have to be overwhelming. With the help of a qualified professional, you can create a plan that's right for you and your family.


As people enter their later years, elder law and estate planning become increasingly important to ensure their legal needs and rights are protected. While these two legal specialties share some common goals like assigning financial and medical powers of attorney, they diverge in their primary focus. Elder law takes a wide-ranging approach to address legal issues impacting seniors daily, from public benefits eligibility to age discrimination and long-term care planning. Estate planning zeroes in specifically on transferring assets and property after incapacity or death in line with one’s wishes.

Understanding these distinct differences empowers aging adults to seek counsel from the appropriate professionals. A comprehensive plan should integrate both disciplines. Consulting an elder law attorney helps protect quality of life and access benefits supporting age-related needs. Estate planning attorneys preserve assets and create effective inheritance structures. Together, these areas of legal expertise allow seniors to face the future with confidence, knowing professionals have helped secure their finances, health and legacy during their elder years.

How do I create an estate plan?

There are numerous options and scenarios to consider when developing an estate plan that protects your legacy and achieves your objectives, and important decisions should be made with the advice of qualified lawyers and financial experts. Membership with Legacy Assurance Plan provides members with valuable resources and guidance to develop comprehensive estate plans that take life's contingencies into consideration and leave a positive impact for generations to come. Legacy Assurance Plan members also receive peace of mind that a team of trusted, experienced professionals will assist them in developing legal, financial and tax strategies that will meet their needs today and for years to come through periodic reviews.

This article is published by Legacy Assurance Plan and is intended for general informational purposes only. Some information may not apply to your situation. It does not, nor is it intended, to constitute legal advice. You should consult with an attorney regarding any specific questions about probate, living probate or other estate planning matters. Legacy Assurance Plan is an estate planning services company and is not a lawyer or law firm and is not engaged in the practice of law. For more information about this and other estate planning matters visit our website at

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