The term “elder law estate planning” may cause many people to think this area of law is not for them.

The word “elder” excludes many of us who don’t think of ourselves as senior citizens.

The words “estate planning” lead many to think you have to be wealthy.

In reality, elder law estate planning surprisingly also encompasses the young and people with few or no assets.

Part of elder law estate planning is disability planning - legally naming people who will make decisions for you in case of incapacity.

In a power of attorney, you name people who will make legal, business and financial decisions for you if you no longer can.

The power of attorney avoids a court proceeding called a guardianship, when a judge appoints a legal guardian for you. Guardianship proceedings are costly and time consuming.

Instead, you can protect your autonomy, appoint the people you choose, and keep the government out of your affairs.

Spouses do not have natural power of attorney over one another and must sign the power of attorney documents.

In addition, the “elder law power of attorney” includes unlimited gifting powers that can save money from nursing home costs in a crisis.

In a health-care proxy, you name people who will make medical decisions if you’re incapacitated.

A living will states your end-of-life wishes, such as resuscitation and other life-sustaining measures.

Everyone 18 years old and older needs a power of attorney and health-care proxy.

Trusts, as opposed to wills, avoid a court proceeding upon death called probate.

By avoiding probate, you save time, money and avoid family members fighting over the inheritance.

Trusts are no longer just for the wealthy. For protecting assets, such as the family home, the Medicaid Asset Protection Trust (MAPT) protects assets from nursing home costs after five years.

Young families with minor children often need a “young family estate plan,” consisting of wills, powers of attorney and health-care proxies/living wills.

Wills appoint legal guardians for the minor children and state that all assets go to the surviving spouse if one spouse dies.

Without wills, if one spouse dies, about half of the assets go to the minor children, which may be financially devastating for a surviving spouse who needs the money to manage the family’s affairs.

Powers of attorney and health-care proxies/living wills, as always, provide disability planning and avoid guardianship proceedings.

Everyone, rich or poor, young or old, can benefit from an estate plan.

Bonnie Kraham is an attorney practicing elder law estate planning with Ettinger Law Firm, 75 Crystal Run Road, Middletown. She can be reached at 845-692-8700, ext. 119 or bkraham@trustlaw.com. This column is intended to provide general information, not legal advice.

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