Elder Law 101: What to look for when hiring an Elder Law attorney

Legal problems that affect the elderly are growing in number. Our laws and regulations are becoming more complex. Actions taken by older people with regard to a single matter may have unintended legal effects. It is important for attorneys dealing with the elderly to have a broad understanding of the laws that may have an impact on a given situation, to avoid future problems.

Unfortunately, this job is not made easy by the fact that Elder Law encompasses many different fields of law, such as
• Medicaid 
• Medicare and Social Security claims and appeals
• Supplemental and long-term health insurance issues
• Disability planning, including living trusts and “living wills”
• Estate planning
• Nursing home issues
• Age discrimination in employment
• Retirement benefits

Most Elder Law attorneys do not specialize in every one of these areas. So when an attorney says he/she practices Elder Law, find out which of these matters he/she handles. You will want to hire the attorney who regularly handles matters in the area of concern in your particular case.

Ask Questions First
Ask lots of questions before selecting an Elder Law attorney. Start with the initial phone call and ask questions:

• How long has the attorney been in practice?
• Does his/her practice emphasize a particular area of law? 
• How long has he/she been in this field? 
• What percentage of his/her practice is devoted to Elder Law?
• Is there a fee for the first consultation and if so, how much is it?
• Given the nature of your problem, what information should you bring with you to the initial consultation?

Get It in Writing
Once you decide to hire the attorney, ask that your arrangement be put in writing. The writing can be a letter or a formal contract. It should spell out what services the attorney will perform for you and what the fee and expense arrangement will be. Remember – even if your agreement remains oral and is not put into writing, you have made a contract and are responsible for all charges for work done by the attorney and his/her staff.

Make It a Good Experience
A positive and open relationship between attorney and client benefits everyone. The key to getting it is communication. The communication starts with asking the kinds of questions listed above. Use the answers to the questions as a guide not only to the attorney’s qualification but also as a way of determining whether you can comfortably work with this person.

To find a NAELA-member Elder Law attorney in your area, visit NAELA.org.

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