Planning for the End of Your Life

How estate planning can give you and your loved ones greater peace of mind in New York

By Lisa Armstrong | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on December 6, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorneys Ellen G. Makofsky, Robert Abrams and Peter J. Strauss

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Elder law isn’t just for the elderly anymore. “The term ‘elder law’ is a misnomer,” says Ellen G. Makofsky, an attorney with Makofsky Law Group in Garden City.

“You don’t need to be old to use or require the services of an elder law attorney since elder law is really concerned with planning for the possibility of disability and death and putting a plan in place if something should happen.”

Four Questions to Ask Yourself When Creating an Estate Plan

Here are Makofsky’s four major questions to answer when making a plan:

  1. Who should make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make your own?
  2. Who should manage your finances if you can no longer do so?
  3. What is your plan for long-term care if something catastrophic happens?
  4. How do you ensure that your assets are left to your heirs in the way you want, and in a way that protects them?

Seven Documents to Gather for End-of-Life Planning

In his book “Be a Planner, Not a Gambler,” Robert Abrams, an elder law attorney with Abrams Fensterman in Lake Success, outlines 11 steps to create such an estate plan.

The first step is to gather the necessary documents, including the following:

  1. Birth certificate;
  2. Social Security card;
  3. Marriage license;
  4. Divorce decree;
  5. Family tree;
  6. List of professionals, including your attorney, financial adviser, and accountant;
  7. List of passwords for email, social media, and other accounts.

Having all this information in one place, Abrams says, will help create the plan and allow family members to access your end-of-life wishes when necessary. “You need to understand the relationship between your finances, projected longevity, personal obligations, and lifestyle,” Abrams adds.

The term ‘elder law’ is a misnomer. You don’t need to be old to use or require the services of an elder law attorney since elder law is really concerned with planning for the possibility of disability and death and putting a plan in place if something should happen.

Ellen G. Makofsky

Who’s Eligible for Medicaid?

Financial planning for long-term healthcare is a big issue. “Twenty-five years ago, Medicaid was clearly the de facto long-term-care insurance for older people,” says Abrams. “But now, given the eligibility rules, many people need to pay for the tremendous cost of long-term care.”

But tools can be used to help someone become Medicaid-eligible, says Peter J. Strauss, an elder law and estate planning and probate attorney with Pierro, Connor & Strauss.

New York has a Medicaid Surplus Income Program, which allows people to qualify for Medicaid if they spend their excess income on medical bills. Strauss also advises people to look into long-term-care insurance while they are young so that they can get a reasonable price before costs go up. With people living longer, planning for old age is important.

You need to understand the relationship between your finances, projected longevity, personal obligations, and lifestyle.

Robert Abrams

Care Planning When Life Changes Fast

Family structures have changed over time. Abrams says he has seen the needs of his clients change so much that he believes elder law attorneys should now be trained differently. “You can plan, but then all of a sudden [clients] have an issue, which is why I think elder law attorneys need litigation skills,” says Abrams.

Legal documents such as your last will and testament, living will, living trust, durable power of attorney, or other planning documents should be reviewed periodically to keep them current. That can get expensive, but Strauss notes, “There are organizations like NYLAG [New York Legal Assistance Group] that provide free and low-cost legal services for elderly people—as long as the elderly meet the guidelines.”

There are organizations… that provide free and low-cost legal services for elderly people—as long as the elderly meet the guidelines.

Peter J. Strauss

Find an Experienced Elder Law Attorney

Visit the Super Lawyer directory to find an experienced elder law and estate planning attorney in your area. For more information on this area of law, see our overview of estate planning and probate.

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