Selecting an elder care attorney is an important decision that can have major implications for your finances, healthcare, and general well-being as you age.
With issues like long-term care planning, Medicaid eligibility, estate planning, and more at stake, you want to find an attorney who understands your needs and has the right expertise to protect your interests.
This guide will outline what to look for when choosing an elder law attorney.
Understanding Elder Law Specialization
Elder law is a specialization covering the unique legal needs of older adults. An elder care attorney has focused knowledge and experience in areas like:
- Estate planning – Creating wills, trusts, powers of attorney to manage assets and property if you become incapacitated.
- Medicaid and long-term care planning – Navigating eligibility, paying for nursing home or in-home care.
- Guardianship and conservatorship – When a court appoints someone to make decisions for an incapacitated senior.
- Healthcare laws – Outlining healthcare wishes in a living will or healthcare power of attorney.
- Elder abuse prevention – Addressing financial, physical, or emotional abuse of seniors.
- Age discrimination – Protecting rights in housing, workforce, public spaces.
- Retirement and disability laws – Navigating rules around Social Security, pensions, veteran benefits.
- Tax laws – Managing taxes, capital gains when selling property to pay for care costs.
An attorney well-versed across these issues can help safeguard your finances, assets, and welfare as you deal with aging-related matters.
Key Credentials to Look For
When vetting elder law attorneys, keep an eye out for these credentials:
Elder law certification
Some attorneys pursue an extra certification in elder law granted by the National Elder Law Foundation. This signals advanced expertise in aging-related legal needs. Only a few hundred attorneys nationwide attain this certification.
Estate planning certification
Specialization in wills, trusts, and estate planning is crucial. Certification through the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils is preferred.
Membership in elder law attorney organizations
Does the attorney belong to the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys or a state elder law group? Membership indicates commitment to the field.
Licensed in your state
Ensure the attorney is licensed and authorized to practice in your state. Rules vary between states.
Of course, certifications and credentials alone don’t guarantee an attorney is right for you. But they help narrow options to highly qualified candidates.
Interview Questions to Ask Prospective Attorneys
Once you have a shortlist of potential elder law attorneys, set up consultations and come prepared with questions:
1. How long have you focused on elder law?
Choose someone practicing elder law for many years, not as a side service. Ask about their typical clients and breadth of experience.
2. Which elder law services do you offer?
Ensure the attorney handles key areas you’ll need like long-term care planning, Medicaid advice, estate planning, healthcare directives, etc.
3. How many elder law clients have you served?
Opt for an attorney who works with many seniors and can cite examples of cases they’ve handled that are similar to yours.
4. Do you have experience with my specific situation?
For example, if you’re a veteran or have a disabled dependent, choose an attorney with expertise in those areas.
5. What facility planning services do you provide?
The attorney should review contracts and guide you if you’re considering independent living, assisted living, or nursing home care.
6. Are you available for in-person consultations?
Frequent contact is crucial. See if the attorney is readily available or if you’ll mainly interact with assistants.
7. How quickly do you return calls and emails?
Aging clients require responsiveness. Gauge how fast the attorney replies and communicates.
8. What is your typical strategy for Medicaid applications?
See if the attorney takes an ethical approach focused on meeting eligibility criteria, not loopholes.
9. What Wizard other elder law attorney would you recommend?
A reputable attorney should have a strong network of referral contacts.
10. What credentials, education, and memberships do you have?
Verify expertise by asking about certifications, bar associations, higher education in elder law, and memberships in aging-focused legal groups.
11. Do you carry malpractice insurance?
It’s essential for the attorney to have professional liability coverage in case of errors or omission.
12.What do you charge and how do you calculate fees?
Compare rates and understand all costs involved. Ask if they offer payment plans.
13. Can you provide references from past clients?
Speaking with a current or former client helps gauge the quality of service.
Assessing an Attorney’s Skills and Services
Beyond proper credentials and interviewing carefully, you also want to evaluate an attorney’s competence across key facets of elder law:
Estate planning expertise
Can the attorney help craft customized wills, trusts, and other estate planning vehicles to transfer property and assets per your wishes while minimizing tax liabilities?
Medicaid planning knowledge
Do they understand Medicaid eligibility requirements in your state and have strategies for meeting guidelines, even with complex financial situations?
If you need representation in guardianship hearings or elder abuse cases, does the attorney have litigation experience and success?
Long-term care assistance
Can they review care facility contracts and service agreements to negotiate favorable terms and pricing?
Family counseling abilities
Does the attorney help mediate family conflicts that may arise around care decisions, finances, property, and inheritance disputes?
Understanding of healthcare laws
Can they inform you about healthcare decision laws and ensure legal documents comply?
Tax law comprehension
Does the attorney have tax expertise to help preserve assets if selling property for long-term care costs?
Ideally, the attorney you choose will offer well-rounded experience across all these facets or have trusted partners who can provide guidance on specialty areas.
Comparing Multiple Attorney Options
Choosing an elder law attorney is an intensely personal decision. No two seniors will have the same priorities and needs. However, as you compare options, keep these factors in mind:
- Overall experience – The attorney’s years specifically focused on elder law matters most.
- Law firm size – Solo practitioners provide personal attention but may have fewer resources. Larger firms offer more support staff.
- Accessibility – Look for responsiveness and regular availability to clients.
- Communication skills – An attorney should listen attentively and explain concepts clearly.
- Rapport – Choose an attorney you’re comfortable confiding in and sharing private information with.
- Cost – Compare rates and fee structures. Look for flexibility on payments.
- Satisfaction ratings – Check online reviews and client satisfaction reports.
- Credentials – Screen for elder law certification and membership in aging attorney groups.
- Legal philosophy – Ensure the attorney adheres to ethical practices.
Take time to carefully weigh these factors before committing to an attorney. Schedule initial meetings with top options to make an informed choice.
The Bottom Line
Selecting the right elder law attorney to work with requires thorough research and open conversations. The attorney you choose should have ample experience, proper credentials, reasonable rates, and a legal approach you’re comfortable with.
They’ll serve as your advocate on critical matters from long-term care eligibility to estate planning and healthcare directives.
Invest time upfront finding the best attorney match so they can in turn support your needs for many years to come. With an experienced specialist on your side, you can feel confident your legal interests are protected as you grow older.