What an Elder Law Attorney Does (and Why You Might Need One)

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There are now more than 40 million Americans over the age of 65, and that number is steadily increasing. And, in lockstep with greater longevity, the availability and complexity of federal programs created to assist the aging population is also growing. That’s where an elder law attorney can help.

An elder law attorney (sometimes referred to as an elder care attorney) can help older adults and their families navigate the complicated financial and legal decisions they face. It’s a growing specialization, with nearly 500 certified elder law attorneys across all 50 states. These attorneys are trained to take into account any physical and mental limitations aging clients may be experiencing, and to tap into a specialized network of psychologists, social workers, long term care planners, and other professionals to assist with any changes in the client’s circumstances.

How an elder law attorney can assist you

Elder law attorneys often work in conjunction with other professionals in various fields to coordinate care, legal protections, and financing. The issues they may tackle include:

  • Care coordination. This can be as simple as establishing a health care power of attorney or as complicated as locating the right long-term facility and coordinating financial resources to finance the cost of care.
  • Government benefits. Some seniors want legal guidance protecting their assets while maintaining eligibility for Medicaid and certain Social Security and Medicare benefits.
  • Guardianship. When a person is unable to make decisions for him or herself, whether it be paying utility bills or choosing a doctor, someone needs to assume responsibility for that individual’s affairs. If no one has the legal authority to act, the court will appoint a legal guardian.
  • Financial representation. From planning for the future, like making sure an estate plan is in place and establishing a durable power of attorney, to dealing with money matters in the here and now, such as tax guidance and coordinating with financial planners, an elder law attorney is typically well-versed in looking at clients’ larger financial picture.

It’s important to note that elder law attorneys do not necessarily specialize in every area of law affecting seniors. If you’re especially concerned with a matter of guardianship, for instance, or need guidance on government benefits, take care to find an attorney with experience in that area.

How to choose an elder law attorney

Narrow the pool of available legal professionals to find the best fit.

  • Ask for referrals from friends and family who have hired legal counsel to handle similar issues and in similar circumstances. You don’t need to delve into the nitty-gritty details of your friend’s legal affairs, but you will want to ask what matters the attorney helped with and how satisfied your friend was with the level of service.
  • Search web databases of non-profit groups and professional organizations, such as the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys or the National Elder Law Foundation. The latter offers certification to elder law attorneys who have at least five years of experience in practice, have completed a comprehensive examination, and demonstrate a minimum number of individual cases across elder law categories.
  • Don’t stop at the first name. Choosing an elder law attorney is a big decision, and many experts recommend meeting with at least two attorneys. You’ll want to consider comfort level (Would you feel at ease sharing confidential information with this person? Did he or she seem interested and attentive to your questions?), cost (How does the attorney bill? Are they able to give you an estimate?), and location (convenience counts, particularly if you anticipate an eventual uptick in concerns).

You can browse elder law attorneys in your area using our service finder:

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