It’s a common misconception that estate planning only involves death-time planning — figuring out what and how to address an individual’s assets after they have passed. In reality, estate planning should also include discussions around life-time planning: how to protect your assets while you’re alive so that they last until you pass on, exploring long-term care options, designating a power of attorney and health care agent, and much more. This is called comprehensive lawyering, and it’s what I offer my clients.

One of the most important things to consider when choosing an elder law attorney is to ask whether the attorney provides comprehensive legal services. Look for an attorney that considers not just your financial circumstances, but also your personal, social, and medical situation. An attorney that takes all these factors into consideration can design a plan that not only addresses your present needs, but will also address future needs such as selecting the right person to serve as power of attorney and health care agent.

An attorney who practices comprehensive lawyering will work with you and your family to create a team of professionals including:

  • Physicians
  • Geriatric social workers
  • Financial planners
  • CPAs

The attorney can then serve as a project manager, coordinating this team of professionals to address your needs, and determine how and where your needs can be met.

Comprehensive Lawyering

A scenario I often see is when a husband and wife come in to discuss estate planning regarding their death, i.e. how they want their assets to be distributed and administered upon their death. Through our discussion, I’ll help them realize that they haven’t thought of how to protect their assets while they’re alive, ensuring that the assets survive until their deaths. I then explain to them the steps they need to take in order to protect those assets and how to implement them. This is just one example that many people seeking estate planning haven’t thought about.

When clients visit me for legal assistance, I often realize that they are unsure of what they truly need. Beyond providing advice on a power of attorney, health care proxies, wills, and living trusts, a capable elder law attorney should also have knowledge of community-based programs and nursing homes. It’s a times like these that I rely on the expertise of geriatric care managers. Geriatric care managers will perform an assessment of the client to determine their medical and social needs. From the results, the care manager creates a care plan to address their needs. From the care plan that is put together, I can then create a complementary legal plan, factoring in the available community resources. For example, I will review the available community-based services to see if Medicare can be used to meet and pay for any financial eligibility requirements. This relationship with geriatric care managers allows me to ensure that my clients receive a complete solution to their legal and care needs.

Wrapping up, remember that:

  1. Estate planning is not just death-time planning, but more so about life-time planning. It’s something that you want to address while the opportunity is available.
  2. When planning for your legal needs, it’s important to factor in how your current and future care needs will impact the legal planning.
  3. When looking for an attorney to guide you through the process, make sure that the attorney provides comprehensive services that takes all aspects of your individual situation into consideration.

And if anyone has other questions on comprehensive lawyering, don’t be afraid to contact me by phone or email. Take care everyone.

—Paula