How do you find the attorney that is right for you? If you need a Will drafted or if a loved one is needing long-term care, how do you go about finding the attorney that will meet your needs?
Elder Law is a rapidly growing area in the practice of law. As America’s seniors age, and the “baby boomers” begin go retire within the next few years, there will be an even greater demand for attorneys who understand the laws and regulations, both federal and state, that affect the elderly.
Elder Law encompasses may different fields of law. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) lists some of these:
- Preservation/transfer of assets seeking to avoid spousal impoverishment when a spouse enters a nursing home
- Social Security and disability claims and appeals
- Disability planning, including use of durable powers of attorney, living trust, “living wills” for financial management and health care decisions, and other means of delegating management and decision-making to another in case of incompetency or incapacity
- Conservatorships and guardianships
- Estate planning, including planning for the management of one’s estate during life and its disposition on death through the use of trusts, wills and other planning documents
- Administration and managements of trusts and estates
- Long-term care placements in nursing homes and life care communities
- Nursing home issues including questions or patients’ rights and nursing home quality
- Elder abuse and fraud recovery cases
- Housing issues, including discrimination and home equity conversions
- VA benefits
Most elder law attorneys do not specialize in every one of these areas. So when an attorney says he or she practices elder law, find out which of these matters he/she handles. You will want to hire the attorney who regularly handles matters in your area of concern. For example, if yoou are going to rewrite you will and your spouse is ill, the estate planner needs to know enough about Medicaid to know whether it is an issue with regard to your spouse’s financial situation.
Unfortunately, there are some attorneys who consider themselves “elder law attorneys” but have little or no experience in this area of practice. This is not limited to only attorneys, because financial planners, insurance agents, accountants and bankers, to name just a few, have been known to do the same thing. For that reason, you will want to be particularly careful in narrowing down your selection of an elder law attorney.
If you don’t know how to choose an attorney, you’ll probably turn to one whose name you’ve heard the most – perhaps you’ve seen their advertisement in the paper, perhaps a friend or relative mentioned his/her name. Either way, you don’t know this person, so you’ll have to search their services out before you actually know if their services are right for you.
Factors you should consider when hiring your elder law attorney:
An Exclusive or Primary Focus on Elder Law. The laws, policies and regulations governing eligibility for Medicaid and veterans’ pension benefits are extremely detailed, complex and ever-changing. Unless your attorney is familiar with them, he/she can’t give you the best advice on how to plan for your loved one’s future. Also, is the attorney is a member of NAELA (National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys). Any lawyer who is a serious elder law attorney is a member of NAELA.
Experience Really Matters. Because every client’s situation is different, any sort of “cookie-cutter” planning approach just won’t work. You will need an attorney with the knowledge and experience to customize a plan that is best for your or your loved one.
Success Also Really Matters. You want to make sure that you choose an attorney that has helped people with what you need help with and that he/she has done so with consistent success. So you need to ask questions.
Look for External Indications or Knowledge and Experience. Elder law attorneys can obtain certification through the National Elder Law Foundation (www.nelf.org) the only organization accredit by the American Bar Association to confer practice area certification in the field of elder law. An attorney must demonstrate broad and deep experience across several fields of elder law, be recommended by their peers, and pass a very rigorous examination to become a CELA (certified elder law attorney). Only a very limited number of elder law attorneys are able to achieve CELA status. It is also helpful to know if an attorney has published articles or has served as a continuing education (CE) presenter, instructing other attorneys about elder law subjects.
Use your common sense and gut instincts to evaluate your attorney selection You’ll want to be comfortable with the lawyer you hire. You want to choose the best lawyer who you think will do the best job for you.