Choosing an elder law attorney is no easy task. You likely will be dealing with pressing non-legal decisions, such as quality of care, caregiver issues, hospice and other more medical-related concerns. But choosing an attorney who specializes in elder law will help you properly address legal concerns that can improve your elder’s quality of life. Since elder law is so highly specialized, choosing the right attorney for your needs presents several challenges. Elder law specialists must understand how the law applies to many areas, including Medicare and Medicaid, VA, healthcare decision-making, senior housing, and tax-, estate-, and trust laws. Here are a few tips to help you choose the right law firm and specialist for your needs.
Ensure that the attorney practices elder law. Elder law is a highly specialized niche within a broad range of legal services, so going to a law firm focused on estate planning, for instance, won’t likely help you. Many states have certification programs to ensure that those who are certified meet high standards. The certification process varies by state, but usually the lawyer must pass a rigorous exam and higher standards for continuing legal education in the field of elder law. Many states also have a peer review process and background check. In addition, the non-profit National Elder Law Foundation certifies elder law specialists in the United States. Its certification process aims to identify the attorneys with the most skill and knowledge in this special field. Certification doesn’t guarantee that one lawyer will serve you better than another, but visiting the online database of certified elder law specialists in your state may be a good starting place.
Don’t be afraid to ask your friends and other professionals for a contact. Perhaps your neighbor has gone through the process for a sick or disabled relative, or you have hired legal counsel unrelated to elder law to help you with another issue. Tap these sources to find out whom they recommend. Chances are if the same name keeps coming up, that specialist knows what she’s doing.
Once you narrow down your choice, ask the elder law attorney lots of questions. Is she board certified? Has he held leadership roles in the state bar elder law division or participated in the local chapter of National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, a nationwide group of elder law specialists. Has your prospective lawyer authored articles about elder law? How does he give back to the senior community? Visit the law firm’s website. Does the practice devote a large amount of time and focus to elder law or is it a tiny part of the firm?
These suggestions are a good starting place when you are choosing your elder law specialist, but let’s not overlook the timing of your decision. Nothing beats preparedness. Finding an elder law attorney before a crisis strikes cannot be over-emphasized.