Seniors’ Legal Issues: Steps & Tips for When an Elder Law Attorney is Needed

Family caregivers are, by our nature, fixers. We want to be sure that we are doing and getting the very best for our senior loved ones no matter what the situation brings.

There are, of course, the usual day to day roles we play as caregivers just making sure our loved ones are safe, healthy and mentally stimulated.

We can’t do it all, though we often try.

There are also many deep considerations that come to mind that need to be ‘solved’ in order to look out for the best interests of our seniors.

Caregivers are responsible for numerous financial and legal issues and sometimes realize that an expert is needed to protect senior’s rights and long term needs.

What is an Elder Law Attorney?

According to the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), an elder law attorney represents seniors and their families in a variety of legal issues including estate planning, medical, financial and social needs to assist with providing the highest quality of life for seniors.

They can advise on areas which include tax planning, retirement benefits, probate, trusts, elder abuse/neglect, house issues, Medicare/Medicaid/Insurance, Social Security claims, Veteran’s Benefits, long term care planning and medical decisions.

How to Find An Elder Law Attorney

There are many places you can find referrals to a qualified, trusted elder law attorney in your area.

  • Friend who may have used one already and has experience working with them
  • State Bar Association Referral Service – your state will probably have an online locator
  • Organizations such as AARP, Alzheimer’s Association, Administration on Aging, or one of many other topic specific support groups
  • Local social workers or case managers
  • Another attorney you may know – not all attorneys specialize in affairs of elders but they can provide a referral

Elder Law Attorney Selection

When deciding on an attorney to help with the needs of your senior loved one, it is important to do a little research and investigate whether or not they are competent to provide you with the services you seek. Here are a few suggestions of ways to find more information:

  • Does the lawyer specialize in issues concerning elders? How much time do they spend working with elders and their families? Are they certified in elder law?
  • Will this lawyer handle your issues directly or will your case be given to another legal staff member, such as another lawyer or paralegal?
  • Is he or she a member of NAELA, a local chapter of NAELA or a group in the local bar association that handles elder law issues?
  • Does this lawyer hold any other related degrees, in addition to the law degree, that might be helpful to your individual concern?
  • Has the lawyer been disciplined by the bar association and, if so, what was the nature of the complaint and the outcome?
  • How will your senior have to pay the attorney – a flat fee, hourly rate for services provided, contingency arrangement, or some of all combined? Will you be asked to pay weekly, monthly or only once the entire situation is handled? What out-of-pocket fees will you be charged such as postage, messenger fees, long distance phone calls or other expenses? Will you be asked to pay a retainer up front?
  • Will you be billed for emails, phone conversations, documents, or emergency situations? Is there a charge for an initial consultation or meeting?
  • Check the attorney’s record through the state bar association, review his or her website and ask them for credentials. Do any of your senior’s friends work with or know the particular attorney?
  • Interview the attorney you are considering to be sure that there is mutual trust for a good working relationship. This is the time to ask him or her all your questions and become comfortable they are someone whose advice you can trust for important decisions.
  • Ask that the agreement of services and fees be put in writing or contract form so that all parties understand and agree with the terms so there is no issue later.

Working with the Elder Law Attorney

Once you decide on an attorney that meets your needs and can help resolve your concerns, there are a few things to remember when you meet.

Be sure that you have all the documents ready to help your elder law attorney help you. Be sure you discuss all possible options and understand the consequences of the choices you make for (and with) your senior.

Keep the lines of communication open with your elder law attorney so that everyone is aware of any issues that require resolution, how they will be dealt with and what fees they incur. Good two-way communication will be essential to meeting the needs of your senior.

Your elder law attorney will be your advocate to help you help your senior. They can help you plan for the future and hopefully keep small problems into turning into catastrophes.

Yes, family caregivers like to be fixers, but sometimes we have to resist. When working with an Elder Law Attorney with a senior loved one, keep in mind that it is their life and finances being discussed so we as family caregivers should support rather than lead discussions and decision making as long they are able to make their own decisions.

Do you have tips to share about your experiences working with an elder law attorney you would like to share? We would love to hear your comments!