Lawyer Monthly - January 2024

assistance with government benefits such as Medicaid and Social Security, and issues of elder abuse and exploitation. What does an elder law attorney do and how do they assist senior citizens? My job as a Certified Elder Law Attorney is, at its essence, helping people with all matters relating to aging, retirement, incapacity, and death. For many attorneys, like myself, this often times starts with comprehensive estate planning that takes into account issues like long-term care and government benefits including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. This extends to helping clients obtain benefits they are qualified for, not only Medicaid, but also benefits available through the Veterans Administration, and those additional services as we previously discussed. For example, a lot of people are unaware of extra benefits like additional homestead tax protections. I often find myself telling clients that as attorneys in Texas, our license reads “attorney and counselor at law,” and in working as an elder law attorney I find that many times I am truly leaning into more of that counselor role, acting very much so as a mediator in advising clients and their families through sometimes very difficult circumstances. Who should consider estate planning and why? Every person over the age of 18 really should have some type of estate plan in place. I understand that might sound like a lot to someone who is maybe 19 or 20 years old. The term “estate planning” seems more daunting than it should. If we think about it, really an estate plan is making sure you’ve got something in place so that the people you trust can make decisions for you if you’re unable to do so, making sure they have some reasonable guidance on what you would want if you were incapacitated, and being able to dictate where your property goes when you pass away. For example, someone just starting their adult life may just need simple package of Medical Powers of Attorney and Financial Powers of Attorney, HIPAA authorizations, etc… Whereas for more established individuals and families, an estate plan might include a more complex Will, living trust, or more advanced planning techniques like asset protection or estate tax planning tools. What are the ‘musthave’ estate planning documents in Texas? At a base level, every person in Texas should have a Statutory Durable Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, Directive to Physicians, HIPAA Authorization, and a Last Will & Testament. This will ensure that if you are incapacitated, only the people you choose can help manage your assets and make medical decisions for you. Further, you can make sure that when you pass away your family has the necessary instructions and designations to be able to distribute your property as you wish, not as the legislature has dictated. What are the top estate planning mistakes people make? There are several mistakes I see time and again with clients. Some common mistakes I see are not considering how important the incapacity side of an estate plan is, not incorporating provisions regarding long-term care or proper provisions for loved ones who have special needs, and, most importantly, not doing any planning at all. Too many times, attorneys have to be the bearer of bad news to already grieving clients. Being a community property state, many people still hold common misconceptions about how we own things as married couples. 6 LAWYER MONTHLY JANUARY 2024 As I tell many clients, your job as a Medical Power of Attorney, is not to do what you would do for yourself, but to do what the principal would generally choose for himself or herself.

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