Page Reviewed / Updated – July 27, 2022

Seniors who are new to using the services of a lawyer specializing in older Americans’ needs may be unclear on the difference between an elder law attorney and an estate attorney. At the most basic level, an elder law attorney advocates for and protects the rights of seniors, while an estate attorney works to outline a client’s wishes and implement those wishes after the client dies.

What an Elder Law Attorney Does

Elder law attorneys provide a wide expanse of services to seniors to ensure they get the full range of benefits entitled to them and that they are not discriminated against.

Here are some of the many areas that an elder law attorney covers:

  • Disability benefits, Social Security and veterans’ aid. Certain government benefits programs are fairly straightforward, but in some situations, a senior’s condition may entitle them to additional benefits. This can be a complicated process, and an elder law attorney can ensure that all deserved benefits are received.
  • Medicare and Medicaid eligibility. Enrolling in Medicare or Medicaid can be confusing. It can be difficult for seniors to know the exact coverage they need, and in the case of Medicaid, a lengthy application process involves providing income and asset information. An elder law attorney guides clients through the process and ensures that they qualify for Medicaid and other benefits. 
  • Financial fraud and abuse. It’s not uncommon for bad actors to try to scam seniors. According to the National Council on Aging, seniors suffer $36.5 billion in financial abuse annually. Elder law attorneys specialize in combating this type of fraud.   
  • Long-term care planning. Residing in an assisted living facility is expensive, so making proper financial planning arrangements with an elder law attorney ahead of time can take some anxiety out of this complicated and costly process.   
  • Estate planning. This area is where elder law attorneys and estate attorneys overlap. An elder law attorney can assist in the creation of a will, trusts and other assets to be executed after their client dies. But while an elder law attorney may be able to assist, not all elder law attorneys are experts in this area. In such a case, a senior should consult an estate attorney.

What an Estate Attorney Does

An estate attorney assists in the creation of a will, trusts and other financial instruments and makes sure these are properly acted upon once their client has died.

In addition to the creation of a will and trusts, here are other ways estate attorneys help: 

  • Estate and gift taxes. Estate attorneys are versed in estate and other gift transfers to clients’ beneficiaries and how to minimize the tax burden.    
  • Resolving estate disputes. Challenges to a will from family members or other parties, as well as attempts by family members to gain power of attorney, are not uncommon. An estate attorney protects their client’s interests against this.

Altering a will. It’s possible to alter or update a will in such a way that the altered provision will be invalid — or worse, that the alteration invalidates the entire will. For this reason, it’s safest to use an estate attorney to ensure a will is as iron-clad as possible.