Frequently Asked Questions

What to Do and Not Do with Your Estate Planning Documents?

Creating and executing estate planning documents is just the first step. Once you have completed the documents, you need to know what to do with them. 

All estate plans should include, at minimum, two important planning instruments: a durable power of attorney and a will. A trust can also be useful to avoid probate and to manage your estate both during your life and after you are gone. In addition, medical directives allow you to appoint someone to make medical decisions on your behalf. Once you have all these essential estate planning documents, you need to make sure they are stored properly and get to the right people. 

What Is in a Typical Elder Law Attorney Agreement?

Every law firm’s engagement agreement is different, but we can tell you how we do most of our work.

First, we charge for the initial consultation. It’s an intensive meeting to understand the clients’ situation and goals, discuss planning options, answer questions and together develop a plan for moving forward. In most cases by the end of the meeting, we can quote a fee for implementing the plan. We generally ask for half the fee when we are hired and the balance when the client returns to sign the estate planning documents. If we are hired, we apply the initial fee towards the ultimate cost (in effect, waiving it).

What’s the Difference between Guardianship and Power of Attorney?

A power of attorney and a guardianship are tools that help someone act in your stead if you become incapacitated. With a power of attorney, you choose who you want to act for you. In a guardianship proceeding, the court chooses who will act as guardian.

Power of attorney

A power of attorney is an estate planning document that allows a person you appoint to act in place of you for financial purposes when and if you ever become incapacitated. You may limit a power of attorney to a very specific transaction or you may grant full power to someone over all of your affairs.


If an adult becomes incapable of making responsible decisions due to a mental disability, the court may appoint a substitute decision maker, called a "guardian.” Guardianship is a legal relationship between the guardian and the person who because of incapacity is no longer able to take care of his or her own affairs (the "ward").

The guardian can be authorized to make legal, financial, and health care decisions for the ward. Depending on the terms of the guardianship, the guardian may or may not have to seek court approval for various decisions. Because guardianship involves a profound loss of freedom and dignity, state laws require that guardianship be imposed only when less restrictive alternatives, such as a power of attorney, have been tried and proven to be ineffective.

What is a Special Needs Trust?

Special needs trusts (also known as "supplemental needs" trusts) are an important component of planning for a disabled child (even though the child may be an adult by the time the trust is created or funded).

These trusts allow a disabled beneficiary to receive inheritances, gifts, lawsuit settlements, or other funds and yet not lose her eligibility for certain government programs, such as Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The trusts are drafted so that the funds will not be considered to belong to the beneficiary in determining her eligibility for public benefits.

Special needs trusts are designed not to provide basic support, but instead to pay for comforts and luxuries that could not be paid for by public assistance funds. These trusts typically pay for things like education, recreation, counseling, and medical attention beyond the simple necessities of life.

Medicare vs. Medicaid?

While they may sound alike, Medicare and Medicaid are actually two different programs. Both can help you pay for healthcare and medical expenses.

Medicaid is a federal public assistance healthcare program based largely on financial need that works differently in each state.

Medicare, on the other hand, is an age-based federal health insurance program that guarantees coverage for individuals ages 65 and over and some younger people with disabilities. Do You Know the Right Questions to ask Your Doctor?

How can I be a better Health Care Advocate?

A simple question can help you feel better, let you take better care of yourself, or save your life.

  • What is the test for?
  • How many times have you done this procedure?
  • When will I get the results?
  • Why do I need this treatment?
  • Are there any alternatives?
  • What are the possible complications?
  • Which hospital is best for my needs?
  • How do you spell the name of that drug?
  • Are there any side effects?
  • Will this medicine interact with medicines that I'm already taking?