If you have an aging parent or spouse, you may have unanswered questions about their future. What happens if and when they can no longer care for themselves? Where will they live? Who will help them, and will they be able to be able to afford the care that they need? How will you be able to help them if they become incapable of making their own financial or health decisions? What if family members disagree over what the senior needs?
Unfortunately, as people age, all of these questions, and more, may come into play. Adults who have lived independently for decades may become mentally or physically unable to live on their own. Living arrangements may need to change for the senior’s own safety. A family member or friend may need to take over making important decisions.
All of these changes are intertwined with legal and financial issues, which may be difficult for an older person to navigate on their own or even with the help of a family member. That’s where the services of an elder law attorney come in. An elder law attorney can help with common legal issues older people face, including:
- Estate planning
- Long-term care planning
- Figuring out how to pay for long-term care, including Medicaid planning
- Disability planning, including creating financial and medical powers of attorney
- Establishing guardianships and conservatorships if the senior is not legally capable of granting a power of attorney
- Applying for veterans’ benefits and other government benefits to which the senior may be entitled
- Preventing or addressing elder abuse
An elder law attorney can offer essential help in making sure your loved one’s golden years are happy, safe, and comfortable. But how do you choose an elder law attorney who is right for your loved one’s needs?
Finding an Elder Law Attorney
It’s easier than ever to find an elder law attorney. You can Google “elder law attorney near me,” “elder care attorney,” or similar terms to get started. But just because an attorney holds him- or herself out as an elder law attorney doesn’t mean they are the best for your needs. You want to work with someone who really understands the legal issues facing older people, and who concentrates a significant part of their practice in those areas rather than offering elder law services as an afterthought. So while Google is a good place to start, you should also consult other sources.
The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) is an excellent resource. Attorneys who are members of NAELA endorse aspirational standards for excellence in practice, and are generally up to date with important developments in elder law.
The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) is an excellent resource. Attorneys who are members of NAELA endorse aspirational standards for excellence in practice, and are generally up to date with important developments in elder law. Members of this organization also typically deal with legal issues affecting older people on a regular basis.
Last but not least, the old, but reliable, method of asking people you trust. If you have a neighbor or coworker who has been involved in the care of an elderly relative, ask if they worked with an elder care attorney and if they would recommend their attorney. Using one or more of these methods should yield at least a few attorneys for you to consider.
Things to Consider When Choosing an Attorney
You are hiring an elder law attorney to ensure your loved one’s safety and security. Most lawyers who focus on the needs of older clients are ethical, competent, and genuinely concerned about the needs of seniors. But this decision is too important for you to make based on assumptions about an attorney’s skill and ethics. So the first question is to ask if the attorney has ever been disciplined by the state bar association, and for what reason.
Once you are satisfied that the attorney meets at least your minimum standards for competence and ethical behavior, you can dig deeper. Here are some questions you will want to ask:
- How long have you been practicing elder law?
- What percentage of your practice involves issues affecting older clients?
- Have you handled cases like mine before? How recently? How often?
- Do you have state or national bar association certification for practice areas affecting seniors?
- Will you be working on my family member’s case, or will it be handed off to another attorney or paralegal? If the latter, who will be working on the file and what is their training?
- If I have a question, how soon can I generally expect to hear back from someone when I contact your office? (Especially for family members who live out of town, it is important to have a responsive attorney and staff).
- How do you bill for services?
It can be good to have a list of questions, because you may not be sure what to ask. A good attorney will also have a lot of questions for you, because he will want to know specifics of your loved one’s situation before giving you advice. And because the attorney is experienced in elder law, he or she may ask you questions you hadn’t even considered.
Last, but not least: how do you and your loved one feel about the attorney you are interviewing? While you want your attorney to be competent, ethical, experienced, and fair, you also want him or her to be someone with whom you feel comfortable working. Your gut feeling is important; don’t discount it.
If you have read this far, chances are that you are looking for an elder law attorney for your needs or the needs of a family member. If so, we invite you to contact our law office to schedule a consultation and learn if we are the right elder law attorneys for you.