Elder Law, a relatively new development thanks to prolonged life expectancy, is a branch of the law that serves the needs of the elderly and the disabled as well as their family. As many of you who are caregivers may already know, Elder Law covers an impressive range of client issues, both legal and financial.
The right elder law attorney can guide all involved through the intricate ins and outs of any situation that could arise, protecting the rights and welfare of seniors and their family members. Just a small sampling of the issues an Elder Law attorney might need to address are guardianship, conservatorship, power of attorney, estate planning (wills and trusts), Medicaid planning, probate and estate administration, and advanced directives.
All About Elder Law
Because the laws regarding the care of the elderly vary from state to state, and are always subject to change, it is vital to find an Elder Law attorney who is skilled, knowledgeable, and up-to-date about policy and legal issues in their respective geographical area. Once the time is right to find such a lawyer, start your search by asking people – friends, family, your tax accountant, health care professionals, anyone you trust – for a recommendation. If, after that, you are still unsure about who to hire, check out The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Their members are held to a high ethical and professional standard, and are required to engage in continuing education.
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Before approaching an elder law attorney, come up with a list of the specific concerns for the present and foreseeable future so that you know what qualifications and capabilities your attorney will need. After all, some Elder Law attorneys may only cover a few aspects of the possible issues, while others may be a one-stop resource for everything elder-legal. Additionally, you want a lawyer who is not only experienced and educated but who you feel comfortable talking with, who is relatable.
Fighting for the rights of another who is vulnerable can be trying enough without having the sense that your attorney is not committed and sympathetic. Though you may seem to find many answers through the lawyer’s website, it’s still smart to ask those same questions and anything else that comes to mind, in a face-to-face interview.
Ask The Right Elder Law Questions
Among the questions you could ask an Elder Law Attorney are the following:
- How long have you been practicing this form of law?
- Where did you get your education, and do you engage in continuing education? (Ask for details as to how the attorney keeps up-to-date.)
- Are you licensed to practice Elder Law in this state? (Don’t take anything for granted.)
- Here is a list of the required services: can you fulfill them? (Ask for a detailed description of what will be involved in fulfilling them.)
- Do you have court-related (litigation) experience? (May never be necessary, but good to know.)
- What organizations do you belong to? (There are a number that are Elder Law-specific.)
- What type of fee schedule do you offer? (A flat fee, versus an hourly rate, might save you money.)
- When money is an issue: Do you have a sliding scale or do pro bono work?
Since we’re speaking of money – and almost anything lawyer-related may put a strain on your budget -don’t hesitate to contact your local bar association or free legal aid society to discover if you qualify for low-cost or possibly pro bono advice and/or representation. Veterans can turn to their local chapter of the Veterans Administration for access to a free law clinic. There are also other organizations, outside the VA, that veterans can seek out, like the National Veterans Legal Services Program, among others.
For those who want to try to stay current on what’s happening within Elder Law, go online, to your favorite search engine, and type in “aging and disability” followed by the name of the state in which the senior lives. Every state government has a department devoted to these matters, though the official names will vary. Not only should you obtain the latest information, but you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions, as well.
The upshot is, though caring for someone can be stressful, knowing what options are open to them, and to you, can make it all much easier. You’re not in this alone.