Why Elder Law Attorneys and Financial Planners Should Work Together

Elder Law Attorneys and Financial Planners

A few years back a client unexpectedly stated during a meeting “I can’t plan.  Things keep changing.” Almost instinctively I answered “Because things keep changing you must plan.”

This idea has inspired me ever since.  If we think about it, if nothing changed there would be little or no need for a plan.  If we never moved, got married, got divorced, never aged, never retired, why would we decide to plan?  Over time the notion of planning has motivated me in my elder law practice to look more closely at what is happening both medically and financially regarding my senior clients.

Most recently this quest led me to the American College of Financial Services in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, an extraordinary place that offers multiple designations in insurance, financial planning and related fields much of it through online education.  Two aspects of its programs I really enjoy are the College’s focus on ethics and its practical approach to problem solving.

One designation offered by the College that fits right in with what I do, or could, is RICP, Retirement Income Certified Professional.  Professor Dave Littell heads the program and has been the source and motivation of many interesting discussions over the past few months.

Why would elder law attorneys become interested in financial planning or for that matter why would financial planners want to know more about elder law?  I asked that question years ago to an elder law attorney friend of mine who also became a financial planner, something I plan to do as well.

The answer becomes clearer over time.  Some of it has to do with what we do naturally and some relates to more recent developments in both fields.  Like the story of the blind men who feel an elephant from different sides, one feeling the flank and thinking it was like a wall, another feeling the tail and describing it as a snake, financial planners who work with seniors and elder law attorneys are approaching the same problems for their clients but from different perspectives.

It is my firm conviction that the need for help for seniors facing health and long term care issues is so demanding that advisors, both in elder law and in financial planning may be called upon to use every tool in the toolbox to solve clients’ long term health, housing and financial issues.  We cannot stop at the door with planning and say we cannot go any further when it comes to long term care.  We need to forge ahead.

Here is how more recent developments have affected both fields.

Elder law attorneys are often thought of in terms of Medicaid planning.  While Medicaid planning and applying for Medicaid and other benefits is part of the practice it is only part.  Medicaid is a tool in the toolbox, not the only tool.  Many people, probably most, reach the end of life without staying long term in a nursing home and without Medicaid.  There are fewer nursing homes today and more older residents go to assisted living/personal care or stay home.

Medicaid help at home is limited to people with very low assets and income.  Pennsylvania does not provide Medicaid benefits for assisted living/personal care at all.  For someone going to personal care or staying at home, I came to the conclusion it is a good idea to have money.  Hence, the need for solid financial planning.

What about financial planners?  Long term care insurance, long a staple product believed to be able to solve long term care problems is declining.  Many companies have exited the field while continuing to service existing clients.  Another development sure to influence the field is the U.S. Department of Labor rule slated to go into effect in part now on June 9, 2017, requiring a fiduciary standard, not just suitability in placing retirement fund investments.

How could financial planners and elder law attorneys work together?  Financial planners can organize the finances and provide a stable framework from which decisions can be made.  Elder law attorneys can advise regarding such issues as Continuing Care Retirement Community contracts, Family Agreements and also special rules that help for those who would go on Medicaid.  Both could develop plans collaboratively that continue to be modified over time.  This is just a beginning only limited by creative imagination.

About the Author Janet Colliton

Esquire, Colliton Law Associates, P.C. Janet Colliton has practiced law for over 38 years, 37 of them in Chester County, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her practice, Colliton Law Associates, PC, is limited to elder law, Medicaid, including advice, applications and appeals, and other benefits planning including Veterans benefits, life care and special needs planning, guardianships, retirement, and estate planning and administration.

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