How To Find an Elder Law Attorney
Since living decisions are becoming increasingly complex, seniors often find themselves searching for someone who can cater to their specific legal needs. An elder law attorney is an individual who specializes in areas of the law that are particularly relevant to senior citizens and their family members. Elder law attorneys generally focus their practices in a few of the following areas: estate planning, long-term care planning, social security, public and private pensions, Medicare, Medicaid, Medigap insurance, long-term care insurance, age discrimination, durable powers of attorney, living wills, conservatorship and guardianship, or elder abuse. Elder law attorneys are devoted to serving seniors and can offer an especially sensitive ear concerning the sometimes difficult decisions involved in aging.
While dispensing legal advice, elder law attorneys are also able to refer clients to other professional and/or non-legal resources that are available to help meet their needs. For instance, elder law attorneys are aware of the necessity to pay close attention to the tax consequences of any legal action. They will advise clients to seek the assistance of a tax professional should that be necessary. In other cases, they may be able to recommend public or private resources that are available to help seniors in a number of areas.
Do I need an Elder Law attorney?
Because of the expense of legal services, you want to be absolutely certain that your situation necessitates the assistance of a legal professional before hiring an attorney. Before consulting an attorney, you should consider the following questions: Is this a complex legal issue? Is it likely that you will have to go to court? Are there non-legal resources available to help you? Can you resolve this difficulty on your own?
How do I find a qualified, Elder Law attorney?
The most effective way to locate a qualified, elder law attorney is through a recommendation from a family member, friend, or an attorney you have consulted before and trust. The AARP (http://www.aarp.org/legalsolutions) and the state bar association (www.hg.org) offer impartial attorney recommendations. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (www.naela.org), a professional association of attorneys dedicated to improving the quality of legal services provided to the elderly, and the National Elder Law Foundation (www.nelf.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the development and improvement of the professional competence of lawyers in the area of elder law, can both offer advice for finding a qualified elder law attorney.
Hiring an attorney is a very important decision, and you should ask a lot of questions before you make a final choice. Once you have chosen an attorney, you should continue to ask questions to ensure that you are clear on the steps necessary to quickly and efficiently resolve your legal issue.
While calling potential Elder Law attorneys, you should ask standardized questions in order to choose the attorney who is right for you. It is important that the attorney’s background demonstrate a focus in and concentration on elder law issues. Also, be aware of the fact that not all Elder Law attorneys specialize in the same areas. Be sure that the attorney has experience with the specific legal issue that you need help with. Before hiring an attorney, ask the following questions:
How long has the attorney been in practice?
What percentage of his/her practice is devoted to elder law?
What is his/her area of emphasis?
How long has he/she been in this particular field?
What is the fee for the initial consultation?
What information should you bring to your first meeting?
Once you have found an Elder Law attorney that you are considering hiring, carefully and fully explain your legal problem to them. This allows the attorney to provide an accurate estimate of the time that will be necessary to solve your problem. You will also want to inquire about the attorney’s certifications and memberships with professional elder law organizations. Finally, be sure that you clear on the specific costs involved in solving your problem, as well as the attorney’s billing methods. The questions below will help you to get the information you need before making a final decision to hire a specific Elder Law attorney.
What will it take to resolve this issue?
Are there alternative courses of action?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of each possibility?
How many attorneys are in the office?
Who will handle your case?
How long has the attorney been practicing?
What percentage of the attorney’s practice is devoted to elder law? Does his or her practice emphasize a particular area of elder law?
How much experience does the attorney have with cases like or similar to yours?
How much elder law training has the attorney had, and from what organizations?
If a trial will be involved, does he/she do trial work? If not, who will go to trial for you, and how much trial experience do they have?
Is your attorney a member of the local bar association?
Is your attorney a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys?
Is your attorney certified as an elder law attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation?
What is the estimate of the time involved to resolve your problem?
How are fees computed? Will rates be hourly, or is there a flat rate for this particular service?
What additional out-of-pocket expenses will be incurred (such as copying, postage, court, messenger, and phone fees)?
What is the estimate of the cost involved to resolve your problem?
Will the attorney require a retainer (money placed in a trust account before services are rendered)?
How often does the attorney bill?
Will the attorney provide you with an agreement for both of you to sign that specifies what services will be performed and what the fees and expenses arrangement will be?
This article was adapted from the National Academy of Elder Law Attorney’s and the National Elder Law Foundation’s websites. For more information, please visit their sites: www.naela.org or www.nelf.org.