Estate planning and elder law planning is putting together legal papers that will accomplish your goals and acting now to make sure you have planned to address potential looming long term care costs.

First, relative to estate planning, you need to plan now who will have the right to handle your affairs for finances and for health if you become disabled.

Typically, this involves signing a health care power of attorney, a HIPAA release, and a general power of attorney. These documents are not “one size fits all.”

The general power of attorney can be immediately effective, or it can be effective only if two doctors certify you are unable to handle your affairs. Then, there is the scope of the authority to consider.

Will your agent have the authority to do Medicaid planning? If the instrument does not specifically state that this is permitted, then it is not.

Considering the costs (legal fees, court costs, doctor witness fees), the headache and delay (potentially months in court) of going through guardianship and conservatorship, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to get these in place.

Second, you need to consider whether (a) you would like to avoid unnecessary probate fees, costs and delay, and (b) whether you want to make sure your assets stay in your family.

Most of the time, we use trusts to avoid probate. If you want to ensure your assets will stay in your family, plan for that: Leave assets to loved ones “in trust” so the remainder interest is guaranteed to stay in the family.

Many people have blended families (second marriages), and when they do, good planning is crucial.

The first order of business relative to elder law and potential looming long term care costs, you need to make sure your agent has the authority to do this kind of planning for you.

Approximately 70 percent of the people in long term care in the U.S.A. are on Medicaid.

Chances are you will need it.

Second, if you own your house with no debt and are willing to forego a reverse mortgage, then you can virtually guarantee that your house will stay in your family.

However, you must act five years before you may need Medicaid. Planning ahead is critical.

When it comes to estate and elder law planning, a little bit of planning can and does make a very BIG difference.

Mark F. Winn, J.D., Master of Laws (LL.M.) in estate planning, is a local asset protection, estate and elder law planning attorney.