5 Smart Tips for Hiring a Qualified Elder Law Attorney
Just as there are primary care physicians and specialty doctors, there are regular estate planning lawyers and then there are elder law attorneys. You wouldn’t select an Orthopedic Surgeon to perform an open-heart surgery so why would you choose a regular estate planning lawyer over a certified elder law attorney?
Before choosing the right elder law attorney, it is important to understand the difference between an estate lawyer, estate planning attorney and an elder law attorney.
An estate lawyer is an attorney who handles the affairs of an estate (after an individual has passed) which can include anything from owned property, liquid assets in the bank or in investment accounts as well as other legal interests of the deceased. If the individual died with a will, it is the estate lawyer who will need to go to local probate court, contact any heirs/anyone else mentioned in the will, prepare and file accounting documents on behalf of the executor of the estate as well as ensure all debts are paid and the balance of the estate is properly distributed accordingly.
While an estate lawyer handles the administration of the estate once an individual passes, an estate planning attorney meets with individuals BEFORE they pass in order to help an individual/individuals determine how they want their estate distributed. Especially for those with very large estates (those who own lots of property or have a lot of cash in the bank, in stocks etc.) or those with complex estates (those who may own multiple properties with business partners or those who may not have direct family members to act as heirs of the estate), an estate lawyer is crucial in helping one strategically plan for minimizing taxes, setting up healthcare proxies and power of attorneys, living wills and trusts etc. Typically, estate planning attorneys are a jack-of-all-trades as they often practice real estate law and specialize in other forms of law as well.
While both estate lawyers and estate planning attorneys are extremely intelligent and vitally needed, it is a *certified* elder law attorney that combines the skills of both attorneys but further specializes in elder care with a focus on the needs of senior citizens which ultimately overlap with all of the above. Elder law attorneys help individuals and families alike navigate the challenges of caring for a disabled or incapacitated senior, pursuing court-appointed guardianship or conservatorship, reviewing and assessing public assistance options, planning for long-term care (such as home care, moving into an assisted living facility or going to a nursing home) and Medicaid planning. Elder law attorneys “dive deep” with each client assessing their current income and overall portfolio (including all assets), gaining understanding of their family situation and observing the client’s current health condition to develop a plan to maximize the availability of Medicaid to help a client pay for their long-term care needs. An elder law attorney helps seniors and families answer questions such as the following:
- How can I qualify for Medicaid so it will pay for long-term care?
- How can I protect my home and assets but still afford the care I want and need?
- How can I make sure my spouse and/or children will have money after all of my care expenses are paid?
- After I pass away, will Medicaid try to get money from my estate for the medical bills they paid and cause problems for my spouse and/or child/children?
As far as hiring a reputable elder law attorney, the best ways to go about it is by getting a referral from someone you know or by consulting the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) website to find a certified elder law attorney near you. However, the below five tips can help guide you through selecting the right attorney for you:
- Call a few attorneys and meet them for an initial consultation (initial consultations are not always free so you will want to ask before you meet with the attorney so you know what to expect)
- Find out how much experience they have had with issues similar to yours
- Evaluate the level of customer service you receive
- You want to work with someone who makes you feel comfortable as you are discussing highly personal and sensitive information and you want them to be responsive. You also want to ensure they take the time to clearly explain, in layman’s terms, all documents, what these documents mean, why you need them etc. A well-informed decision is the best decision!
- Take plenty of notes!
- If you’re not a good note-taker and/or if you have trouble absorbing information, you may want to consider bringing with you someone you trust to the appointment(s)
- Check their credentials
- Before hiring any lawyer, do as much research as you can on them. Check the Massachusetts Bar Association website to make sure the attorney is actively licensed and that they have not faced any legal disciplinary actions.
At ABC Home Healthcare Professionals, we consider ourselves extremely lucky to have worked with some incredible elder law attorneys and we are always delighted to make recommendations when clients need them. Is it time for you to start planning for your future? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on next steps, recommended elder law attorneys, additional elder care resources etc.