That’s why it’s so important to find an expert lawyer that you trust to draw up the right documents.
We explain what an elder law attorney does and how they help seniors and caregivers.
We also share two ways to find an elder law attorney in your area and 5 smart tips for hiring someone who’s reputable and experienced.
What does an elder law attorney do?
Elder law is a specialized legal area focused on older adults and their adult children.
This legal specialty focuses on specific needs, including:
- Power of attorney and other important legal documents
- Long term care planning and paying for care
- Medicare and Medicaid planning
- Veterans benefits
- Estate planning
- Disability planning
- Elder abuse
2 ways an elder law attorney helps seniors and family caregivers
1. Plan for the future and protect assets
An elder law attorney has the expertise to make recommendations on how to plan for future care needs.
They often answer questions like:
- How can I qualify for Medicaid so it will pay for nursing home care?
- How do I protect mom’s house and assets, but still afford the care she needs?
- How do I make sure my wife will have money left after all my care expenses are paid?
- What to do if I need to become dad’s guardian or conservator?
- After I pass away, will Medicaid try to get money from my estate for the medical bills they paid and cause problems for my spouse or kids?
These are complicated questions and the answers will be different for each person.
A reputable elder law attorney helps protect your senior’s legal and financial situation and helps you figure out how to pay for the care they’ll need.
The fees are well worth it if they can save your family thousands of dollars and avoid future legal headaches.
2. Ensure all the legal documents are correct for your state
Laws are different (and very specific) for each state, so it’s important that the documents are prepared correctly.
A local elder law attorney can make sure that your older adult has completed all the important legal documents and that they’re compliant with state and local laws.
2 ways to find an elder law attorney
1. Get a referral from someone you know
Getting a referral from family or a friend is a great way to find a lawyer.
If they have a lawyer they’re happy with and would work with again, that’s a good sign.
It’s best to get a referral from someone whose legal needs were similar to yours. But even if you need an elder care lawyer and your cousin worked with an excellent civil attorney, that referral is still useful.
Also, good lawyers typically know other good lawyers and will probably be able to refer you to a colleague they respect.
Similarly, financial advisors, accountants, and fiduciaries (someone legally appointed to manage money) are professionals who often work with elder law attorneys.
If you know and trust one of these professionals, ask them for a referral.
2. Check the National Academy of of Elder Law Attorneys
The National Academy of of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) is the professional organization for attorneys who specialize in elder law and special needs planning.
Their website includes an attorney finder to help you find an elder law attorney in your area.
5 smart tips for hiring a good elder law attorney
After getting referrals, you’ll still need to choose an attorney.
Don’t make up your mind about hiring a lawyer until you’ve met them, discussed your older adult’s needs, and checked their credentials.
1. Meet for an initial consultation
An in-person meeting helps you get a feel for how they work and if their style works for you.
If you summarize your needs in advance, many lawyers will be willing to meet for 15 to 30 minutes at no charge. If there is a fee for a consultation, find out how much it will be.
If you can, meet with a few lawyers and present the same situation to each. Then, you can compare their responses.
That helps you confirm that the overall approach is legitimate and prompts you to ask questions about any differences in advice.
2. Find out how much experience they’ve had with issues similar to yours
Experience comes with years in practice and with how many of those types of situations they’ve dealt with.
So, it’s a good idea to look for a lawyer with experience handling matters similar to your older adult’s.
For example, if they need a Power of Attorney, long term care planning, and estate planning, ask prospective attorneys to describe their experience with those matters.
3. Evaluate their customer service
Working with someone who is professional and responsive is important.
After speaking with a lawyer, ask yourself:
- Are they polite and professional?
- Do they return calls or emails in a timely manner?
- Do they take time to explain things to make sure you have a good understanding?
- Do they follow through with things they’ve said they’ll do?
4. Take plenty of notes
To help you remember what each lawyer said and how you felt about them, be sure to take notes during and after each meeting.
Later, review your notes to help you make the final decision.
5. Check their credentials
Before hiring any lawyer, check the State Bar Association website for your state.
Look up the attorney’s name or Bar number to make sure they’re actively licensed to practice law in your state. This will also show if they’ve ever been publicly disciplined.
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