What is the Difference Between Elder Law and Estate Planning?

Senior Law News | Jan 31, 2022 | Rachel H. Snead

Elder law and estate planning serve two different – but equally vital – functions. The main difference is that elder law is focused on preserving your assets during your lifetime, while estate planning concentrates on what happens to your assets after you die. 

Elder law planning is concerned with ensuring that seniors live long, healthy, and financially secure lives. It usually involves anticipating future medical needs, including long-term care. Elder law attorneys can help you develop a plan to pay for future care while preserving some of your assets for yourself and your family. They can also assist you with qualifying for Medicaid or other benefits to pay for long-term care.

In addition, elder law planning can ensure that you are protected from elder abuse or exploitation when you get older or become incapacitated. Seniors can be targets for crime and discrimination and some will need an elder law attorney to help battle these issues. An elder law attorney can assist their senior client in recognizing abuse and crime, reporting it, and making sure their rights are protected.

Finally, elder law covers assistance with guardianship and conservatorship, if needed. If an elderly client becomes incapacitated, planning is needed to protect their assets and obtain the necessary medical care. Hopefully the client had the proper estate planning in place and has written documentation of their wishes in the event of incapacitation. Then, the elder law attorney will help the client’s family carry out those wishes in the best manner possible. If the client did not have estate planning in place, then the elder law attorney can guide the family through petitioning the court for guardianship and conservatorship over the elderly client.

While elder law is focused on older adults, estate planning is for everyone of all ages. Estate planning is a proactive task that is all about preparing for the inevitable – death. Estate planning attorneys help you determine what will happen to your assets after you die. A proper estate plan establishes the who, what, and when of what happens to a client’s property after death. The plan provides a roadmap for families to follow when they can no longer look to the client for guidance.

Estate plans can change as your circumstances change, so it is important to keep revisiting your estate plan over the years. For example, marriages, divorces, births, and deaths, as well as changes in finances, can all call for updates to your estate plan. 

The practice areas of estate planning and elder law overlap, and skills used in one area can often be useful in the other. To get the most out of your estate plan and to ensure that the plan is comprehensive, it is important to make sure that you are meeting with a certified elder law attorney.


Hook Law Center: Hi, Kaya! We saw a lot of snow in Hampton Roads over the past two weeks. While snow can be quite the headache to adult humans, how come dogs are always so stoked for snow?

Kaya: If you couldn’t tell from my picture…I am a big fan of snow! Dogs are very much like young humans in the way we enjoy the snow. Adult humans often find snow to be an inconvenience…but for obvious reasons, dogs tend not to stress so much about work or other responsibilities. Dogs also love to manipulate their environment – for example, jumping into a pile of leaves can often provide a similar feeling. You should check out this article from Southern Living on why we react to snow the way we do: https://www.southernliving.com/culture/pets/why-do-dogs-love-snow.

Rachel H. Snead

Associate Attorney
757-399-7506 | 252-722-2890
[email protected]

Rachel Snead is an associate attorney with Hook Law practicing primarily in the areas of estate planning, estate and trust administration, guardianship and conservatorships, dispute resolution, and fiduciary litigation. To date, she has litigated and settled over 50 matters. She enjoys the diversity of work that elder law provides, and the challenges presented by litigation just as much as she enjoys helping people with creating their unique estate plan and navigating the complex administration of estates and trusts.

 A graduate of the University of Richmond School of Law and Virginia Commonwealth University, Rachel is admitted to the Virginia State Bar. She is also a member of the Virginia Bar Association (VBA), the Hampton Roads Estate Planning Council, the Virginia Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (VAELA), and the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association (VTLA).

In 2022 she became a licensed health and life insurance agent and attended the prestigious National Trial Advocacy College at the University of Virginia School of Law where she received intensive hands-on advocacy training.

 She has taught multiple continuing legal education courses including, “Getting Started in Elder Law,” “Virginia Probate from Start to Finish,” and “Guardianships and Assisted Decision-Making in Virginia,” and has facilitated sessions for VAELA including “Medicaid & SSI When a Client Owns a Business.” She has also been published on various platforms including T & E Magazine, WealthManagement.com and Age in Action, a quarterly newsletter published by the Virginia Center on Aging and Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services.

Practice Areas

  • Estate Planning
  • Estate & Trust Administration
  • Guardianships & Conservatorships
  • Litigation & Dispute Resolution
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