What is an Elder Law Attorney?

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Attorneys who work in the field of elder law bring more to their practice than an expertise in the appropriate area of law. They also have knowledge of the senior population and their unique needs as well as the myths related to competence and aging. They are aware of the physical and mental difficulties that often accompany the aging process. Because of their broad knowledge base they are able to more thoroughly address the legal needs of their clients.

For example, when planning an estate, an elder law attorney would take into consideration the health of the person or couple, the potential for nursing home care and the wishes and concerns of the person or couple if that event were to occur. If need arises, the elder law attorney will associate other legal experts.

Elder law covers all aspects of planning, counseling, education, and advocating for clients. Elder law attorneys are a resource to their clients because they understand their clients’ needs may extend beyond basic legal services and stay informed about and connected to the local networks of professionals who serve the elder population.

LEGAL ISSUES

Elder law attorneys deal with legal issues involving

  • Health and personal care planning, which include the following topics: powers of attorney and living wills; lifetime planning; family issues;
  • Fiduciary (financial) representation; financial planning; housing opportunities and financing; income, estate, and gift tax matters;
  • Planning for a well spouse when the other spouse requires long term care; Asset protection; public benefits such as Medicaid and insurance; Veterans’ benefits;
  • Capacity; guardianship and guardianship avoidance;
  • Resident rights in long term care facilities; nursing home claims;
  • Employment and retirement matters; age or disability discrimination and grandparents’ rights.
  • Will and trust planning; planning for minor or adult special needs children; probate;
  • Elder law encompasses all aspects of planning for aging, illness, and incapacity. The specialization requires a practitioner to be particularly sensitive to the legal issues impacting elder clients.

ELDER LAW SPECIALISTS

Some elder law attorneys are certified as elder law specialists by the Florida Bar. This certification requires that attorneys must be a member in good standing of The Florida Bar and must have practiced law for at least five years. The applicants must have demonstrated substantial involvement of their practice — 40 percent or more — in elder law, in the three years preceding their application. The lawyer must also pass a comprehensive written examination and peer review in order to be certified as a specialist.

A second organization, the National Elder Law Foundation, provides board certification with similar requirements for elder law attorneys across the country. Attorneys with that certification will have the letters CELA after their names.

QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN CONSIDERING AN ELDER LAW ATTORNEY:

  • How long has the attorney been practicing?
  • What percentage of the attorney’s practice is devoted to elder law?
  • Does his or her practice emphasize a particular area of elder law? (for instance, guardianship or other specific work)
  • What is the attorney’s experience regarding the specific matter with which you are concerned?
  • How much elder law training has the attorney had, and from what organizations?
  • Is the attorney a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys?
  • Is the attorney a Florida Bar Board Certified Elder Law Attorney or a CELA?
  • Will the attorney be able to work within your time limitations?

PREPARE FOR YOUR MEETING

Should you decide to meet with an elder law attorney it will be helpful to prepare in advance. Make a list of the questions you will want the attorney to answer. When you review your list of questions, consider what information the attorney will need from you in order to answer your questions. Bring with you any information or documents you think will be helpful. The attorney may or may not need it but, either way, the information will be readily available.

HELPFUL WEBSITES

The following websites have useful information on elder law and include searchable directories of attorneys:

  • National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA): www.naela.org.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

  • The Helpline: A number of elder law attorneys in Florida’s Pinellas and Pasco Counties are listed with the Helpline of the Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas, Inc. Call The Helpline at 1-800-963-5337. For inquiries from outside of the area call 727-217-8111.
  • Florida State Elder Helpline: Call toll-free 1-800-96ELDER (1-800-963-5337) to be routed to an elder helpline in your area of Florida.
  • Eldercare Locator: Free service of the U. S. Administration on Aging to help people locate services for seniors and caregivers in any part of the country. Call toll-free 1-800-677-1116 or visit the Eldercare Locator web site, www.eldercare.gov.

Source: April Hill, Esq., Attorney