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What Makes Elder Law Attorneys Different from Other Attorneys?

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Edited by Bobbi Thury

Elder law attorneys are very different from other attorneys. They define their practice not by the type of legal problems they handle but by the type of persons they help.

Elder law attorneys are very different from other attorneys. They define their practice not by the type of legal problems they handle but by the type of persons they help. Like Aging Life Care Professionals, they help families to maximize the independence and quality of life of older persons. Elder law attorneys can help families accomplish this while best utilizing and protecting life savings. They make sure that older persons receive whatever help or care they may need in ways that best utilize family and government resources.

Working with an Elder Law attorney offers the family and the older person several advantages. First, the Elder Law attorney is experienced with communicating with and working with older persons and their families on interrelated legal and non-legal issues. Second, the Elder Law attorney has working knowledge of the professional and community resources publicly and privately available to meet the needs of older persons. Third, the Elder Law attorney has the expertise to prevent and solve problems in the following areas:

  • Paying for Health and Long-term Care: Planning for and assisting with obtaining Medicaid, Medicare, and veterans benefits for persons at home or in an assisted living or nursing
  • Insurance: Counseling and representation concerning health, medigap, long-term care, prescription, disability, and life
  • Planning for Disability: Advice and drafting of financial and health care powers of attorney and living
  • Fiduciary Representation: Seeking the appointment of and advising guardians, conservators, trustees, executors, representative payees, and those acting under powers of
  • Legal Capacity Counseling: Advising how capacity is evaluated and the level of capacity required for decision-making and representing those who are the subject of guardianship or other protective
  • Elder Abuse: Preventing and remedying abuse, neglect, and financial
  • Retirement Planning: Maximizing Social Security, pension, IRA, 401(k), 403(b), and retiree health
  • Housing: Counseling concerning continuing care retirement communities, assisted living facilities, home equity conversion, and living with family members or
  • Residents Rights Advocacy: Counseling and representation concerning admission contracts, quality of care, and transfer and discharge
  • Estate Planning: Wills and trusts and minimizing estate and income taxes on IRAs, 401(k)s, and 403(b)s.

Lots of attorneys say they practice elder law. Here’s how to find the “right” elder law attorney:

  1. Is the attorney certified? A growing number of states permit attorneys to become certified. If your state does, ask whether the attorney is certified in elder law. Certification means that the attorney has the elder law experience and has met the continuing legal education requirements to hold him or herself out as an elder law specialist.
  2. Is the attorney a member of NAELA (National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys)? NAELA membership shows that the attorney has an interest in elder law, access to NAELA’s educational resources, and has committed to support NAELA’s Aspirational Standards for the Practice of Elder Law. Has the attorney been admitted to NAELA’s Council of Advanced Practitioners or selected as a NAELA Fellow?
  3. How much of the attorney’s practice consists of assisting persons with issues having to do with aging? Lots of attorneys list elder law as part of their practice. More than half the time of the “right” elder law attorney is spent assisting persons with issues having to do with
  4. In what elder law continuing legal education has the attorney participated? Ask the attorney for the transcript of his or her continuing legal education in the past 2
  5. Is the attorney a leader among elder law attorneys? For example, has the attorney chaired a local or state bar elder law committee? Or served as an officer of a NAELA state chapter? Or served on the board or as an officer of NAELA?

Elder Law Attorneys and Aging Life Care Professionals often collaborate to maximize the independence of quality of life of older persons. Together, they help older persons to receive and pay for their health and long-term care, obtain necessary legal documents, protect those in danger of neglect or exploitation, maximize government benefits, and locate appropriate housing and care. Elder law attorneys who work with aging life care professionals can much more holistically meet these and other needs of older persons.

By Gregory S. French, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Cincinnati, OH

This article was originally published in the Aging Life Care Association (ALCA) Newsletter

About the author

Bobbi Thury