Lawyers in the elder law field focus primarily on helping older adults obtain health care and housing and protect their money and families. There is a growing population of people aged 65 and over, so elder law attorneys are in greater demand than ever. If you, your parent, or an older loved one needs legal help, you may need to find an elder law attorney.
Elder law attorneys help seniors draft end-of-life and estate-planning documents and solve issues that arise with Social Security/disability planning, veterans benefits, Medicaid, long-term care planning, and more. There are many attorneys who practice elder law, so it’s up to you to find the one that works best for you and your situation. Consider these tips as you search for the best attorney to suit your needs:
1. Look for experience, credentials, and professionalism
Elder law attorneys handle intimate matters that affect their clients’ lives. The person you trust to protect your money and access to health care and housing should be someone qualified to oversee such matters. Their experience, credentials, and professionalism matter regarding their ability to help and protect you.
Because of how complex elder law can get, an attorney must have experience helping seniors plan for their futures.
The attorney you choose should have experience handling cases like yours. If you need a will or power of attorney drafted, ask the attorneys you interview if they regularly draft them. A lawyer you choose for help with Social Security or Medicare applications should be familiar with the process and familiar with appealing denials.
Anyone practicing law in the United States must be licensed in the state where they work. Ask about the attorney’s license during your initial meeting.
You can find out if the attorney is actively licensed by visiting the State Bar Association website. You can search by the attorney’s name or bar number. This search will also show whether the attorney has been disciplined for misconduct.
The attorney you choose should be professional. Do your research before you hire an attorney. A good place to start is with referrals from family and friends who have used elder law attorneys in the area.
You can also read online reviews to understand how the attorney conducts business. Look for an attorney that is a good communicator, prioritizes meeting deadlines, and uses their time wisely.
2. Ask the right questions
You may meet with several attorneys before you decide to hire one. Consider what information you want to learn before seeing the attorney to ensure you make the most out of your initial meeting. Consider asking these questions during your first meeting:
- How long have you been practicing law?
- Is elder law the focus of your practice?
- Will you handle my case personally? If not, which attorney in the firm is likely to handle my case?
- Have you handled cases like mine in the past?
- What is the best way to resolve a case like mine?
Depending on your priorities, the answers to these questions can help determine which attorney satisfies your needs.
3. Observe how the attorney works with their team
Your attorney’s team will consist of everyone working at the firm, including receptionists, the office manager, legal assistants, paralegals, and other attorneys. The sign of a good attorney is how well they work with their team. If the attorney and their colleagues work like a well-oiled machine, your confidence in their skills will increase.
4. Learn the attorney’s fees and how they bill clients
Before you agree to have an attorney represent you, it’s important to discuss how much they charge. The fee structures available will depend on the attorney. As you talk with potential attorneys, keep your budget in mind.
Some attorneys charge a retainer fee, which is a prepayment for legal work. The attorney keeps the retainer in their escrow account, and they will bill against the retainer amount until it is depleted.
Other attorneys charge an hourly rate, which varies from one attorney to the next. Find out the attorney’s hourly rate before you agree to their representation. Some may be willing to work with clients and accept payment plans.
5. Use the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys website
The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) is a national organization for attorneys specializing in elder law. The attorneys you may find through NAELA are typically highly trained in the subject matter and hold expertise in representing older adults. Members of this association have access to continuing legal education to increase their knowledge in the field as it evolves.
The NAELA website has an attorney finder to help you find an elder law attorney in your area.
The bottom line — Is the attorney a good fit?
A positive working relationship with your attorney is important. Your attorney will be involved in intimate parts of your life. They will know what property you own, your health care needs, and how you want your property distributed after your passing. Hiring an elder law attorney who you feel comfortable with can improve the overall experience.