How to Find a Good Elder Law Attorney
A good elder law attorney is a legal professional who acts on behalf of clients age 55+, and their families. Find out what elder law attorneys do and who needs one.
We often see TV commercials advertising lawyers who specialize in cases involving serious accidents, worker compensation cases, or cases around specific illnesses. There are hundreds of legal specialties, so it stands to reason that there are specialist lawyers who have made matters involving senior citizens their area of expertise. You may hear these lawyers referred to as “elder law attorneys.” A good elder law attorney is a legal professional you can trust, who can act as a strong advocate on behalf of their client (usually a senior, 55+) and the client’s family.
What does an elder law attorney do, and why do you need one? How do you go about finding a reputable and dependable elder law attorney? What are some of the questions you should ask as you conduct your search for an elder law attorney? What types of fees are involved? In exchange for five minutes of your time, we’re going to address all these questions and more; read on to start the process of finding an elder law attorney to protect you.
What Does an Elder Law Attorney Do?
Elder law is a specialized area of the law that focuses on older adults and their adult children. Elder law attorneys are advocates for the elderly and their loved ones, and they can handle a broad range of legal matters that affect older and disabled persons, including:
- Estate planning
- Long-term care (LTC) planning
- Social Security benefits
- Housing opportunities
- Drafting wills
- Creating the power of attorney (POA)
- Financial planning
- Gift tax issues
- Assistance in cases of elder abuse or fraud
- Grandparent visitation rights
- Employment age discrimination
- Veterans' benefits
- Disability planning
Elder law covers so many areas that engaging a relevant attorney is usually not a matter of “if,” but “when.”
Now that you’re considering hiring an elder law attorney, what’s the best way to go about finding someone reputable and qualified to cover these areas and others?
Questions to Ask an Elder Law Attorney
As is the case with every major step you take in your senior years, whether it’s deciding when to retire, what safety improvements to make in your house, whether to hire a caregiver, or show to select the right Assisted Living Community, it’s critical to do the proper research and ask the right questions so you can make the best, most informed decision. Here are just a few to add to your list.
Is the Elder Law Attorney Experienced?
The first step to finding an elder law attorney is seeking out referrals from trusted friends, colleagues, and professionals. Ask for recommendations, and find out about the attorney’s experience and history. Talk with your “regular” family attorney, your accountant, and anyone else you trust. You can also contact your local bar association, or the American Bar Association, and they’ll put you in touch with lawyers who specialize in this particular area.
Some of the questions you may ask in relation to experience include:
- How long has the attorney been practicing?
- Do they specialize in elder law or special needs planning, and at what percentage?
- How long has the elder law attorney been in this field?
- Is there a fee for the initial consultation?
How to Prepare for a Meeting with an Elder Law Attorney
Once you’ve found a few elder law attorneys that might be best for you or your loved one, you can set up appointments with them.
The first meeting should be a casual, “get to know you” consultation. Some attorneys will charge a small fee for this consultation, while many others are willing to give you 15 or 30 minutes of their time for free.
Before meeting with an elder law attorney, you can do a little research on your own. Start by looking up the attorney’s name or bar number on your state’s Bar Association website to make sure they’re licensed to practice law in your state, and to check if they’ve ever been publicly disciplined. If any red flags appear, save yourself the time of an in-person meeting and move on to assessing other contenders!
Key questions you should ask when speaking with an elder law attorney include:
- What will it take to resolve my need? This is likely the most important question to ask and it may take several meetings for the attorney to understand the scope of your request and the resources needed.
- Are there any alternate courses of action? An elder law attorney can provide guidance if legal pursuits aren’t actually needed.
Additional questions include:
- What is the size of your firm, and how many of the attorneys in your office work in the field of elder law?
- Who will handle my case? Has that attorney handled similar matters in the past?
- Does your practice specialize in particular areas of elder law?
- Are you a member of groups such as the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys or the National Elder Law Foundation? (Members of these associations must follow an established ethical and professional set of standards.)
- If we meet again, what types of records should I bring? (E.g., bank statements, retirement statements, life insurance policies, health insurance policies.)
- If a trial is involved, does the attorney have experience with trial work? If not, who completes the trial work? If so, how many trials has he or she handled?
- How are fees computed?
- Do they charge by the hour?
- Are there different hourly rates for the work of attorneys, paralegals, and secretaries?
- How are costs calculated for out-of-pocket expenses like copies, postage, court fees, messenger fees, deposition fees, and phone calls?
- What is the cost for a retainer?
Evaluating Your Partnership
You should also ask yourself some questions after you’ve met with an elder law attorney, including:
- Did you feel comfortable interacting with this attorney? Were they polite and professional?
- When you asked questions, did they take the time to walk you through the answer in a way that made it easy for you to understand?
- If you had follow-up questions, did they return your calls or emails in a timely manner?
It’s a good idea to take notes when you meet with a prospective elder law attorney, so you can refer back to those notes when considering if they are the right person for you.
Seniors and their families benefit from all sorts of resources; sometimes an elder law attorney is necessary, but sometime simple devices can make life easier. Check out our next article, “Best Home Blood Pressure Monitors for Seniors in 2022,” for more actionable advice for seniors.
Find a Senior Living Community Near You
People we can trust make all the difference to feeling supported through complex challenges. A competent elder law attorney is certainly a support resource, as is professional care.
Referah Family Connection Agents are here to help you find care that fits your unique needs. From Independent Living and Assisted Living to specialized Memory Care, we are connected with thousands of senior living communities who are ready to help you live your best life. Talk with us and find a wonderful new home today!