How To Choose An Elder Law Attorney

Elder attorneys focus on areas like estate planning, power of attorney, and long-term care for seniors. They help with wills, trusts, guardianship, legal incapacity, living wills, public benefits planning (Medicare, Medicaid, SSI and SSDI), and insurance. Knowing how these matters impact taxes is also critical to their services.

It can be difficult to find an elder care attorney you trust. Asking family or friends with similar concerns as your own is a good place to start. References can also come from financial advisors, accountants, or fiduciaries (money managers). If you know and trust one of these professionals, ask them for a referral.

Meeting With Potential Elder Lawyer Candidates

Before you choose an elder lawyer, wait until you’ve met them, discussed your needs, and checked their credentials.

If you can’t find an “elder lawyer” by name, look for a lawyer experienced in elder law. A short initial meeting with most lawyers is often free, but be sure to ask if there is a charge. It is important to find out what their fee schedule is before engaging an attorney.

During your interviews, find out the scope and variety of situations they’ve handled. It’s good if they have experience in:

  • Preservation/transfer of assets seeking to avoid spousal impoverishment when a spouse enters a nursing home
  • Medicaid
  • Medicare claims and appeals
  • Estate planning
  • Long-term care placements in assisted living communities
  • Disability and social security (claims and appeals)
  • Health insurance issues for seniors
  • Disability planning
  • Powers of attorney
  • Living trusts / living wills
  • Guardianships
  • Conservatorships
  • Probate
  • Administration and management of trusts and estates
  • Retirement, including public and private retirement benefits, survivor benefits, and pensions

You should also ask yourself if the elder lawyer is someone you could see yourself working with. Are they friendly, reliable, competent, and professional?

Here are some other questions you’ll want to ask potential elder lawyers:

  • How long have you practiced?
  • What percentage of your practice is devoted to elder law?
  • Is there a fee for our first consultation? If so, how much is it?

Formal Elder Law Agreement

Once you find an elder lawyer you like, it is wise to put your agreement in writing, either as a letter or a contract.

This will ensure everyone involved knows and agrees with the services the attorney will perform for you, including the fee and expense arrangement. At the same time, remember that an oral agreement can be as binding as a written contract and would require you to pay all charges for work done by the attorney.

Some attorneys will charge clients hourly rates while others will charge a flat rate for certain tasks or documents. It is important to know this right away. Your goals need to be well defined. Be sure to find out how to legally end the agreement (should you need to) as well.

Useful Elder Law Resources

The following organizations and resources provide free or discounted legal assistance.

  • Your local council on aging may contract with local attorneys for reduced fee or free legal assistance for seniors.
  • Legal Aid organizations specialize in providing legal help for senior citizens who are low-income.
  • State Bar Associations can tell you if there are elder law attorneys in your area who offer free (pro bono) assistance to low-income clients.
  • Veterans may find help through the VA free legal service clinics in VA facilities. Other organizations unaffiliated with the VA also specialize in reduced-fee legal help for veterans.

Look at Elder Law Attorney Credentials

Most State Bar Associations maintain a website where you can check an elder care lawyer’s name or bar number to make sure they’re licensed to practice law. You can also see which attorneys have associations with specialized consortiums, like ElderCounsel or the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Inc. Lastly, the state website should tell you whether the lawyer has ever been disciplined.

As a final note on finding an experienced and trustworthy elder law attorney, you can make your decision much easier by staying organized. Keep notes about each lawyer, including your impressions and their areas of expertise, fees, and credentials. This way, you can make a fair comparison and choose an elder attorney you can easily trust.