Everything You Need to Know About Finding a Lawyer for an Aging Loved One

Lauren Caggiano

Written by Lauren Caggiano on Thu Oct 20 2022.

Having legal affairs in order can help you and your loved one as they advance in age. That’s why it’s so important to find an expert lawyer who you trust to draw up the right documents. Here, we offer a basic guide to elder law and how these professionals can help families like yours.

Having legal affairs in order can help you and your loved one as they advance in age. That’s why it’s so important to find an expert lawyer who you trust to draw up the right documents. Here, we offer a basic guide to elder law and how these professionals can help families like yours. 

What Does an Elder Law Attorney Do?

As the name suggests, elder law is a specialized area of the law focused on older adults and their children. It pertains to everything from declaring power of attorney to elder abuse. An elder law attorney’s priority is helping clients plan for future expenses while protecting assets. The upfront cost is often worth it in the long run, as it can save your family significant money and can also help you avoid legal headaches. 

According to the American Bar Association, an elder law attorney can help with:

  • Estate planning, with a focus on potential future disability (special needs), long-term care, and Medicaid/asset protection planning

  • Medicaid, Medicare, and long-term care planning

  • Guardianship 

Whatever your needs, know that each state has different requirements for legal documents so it’s important that yours are prepared correctly the first time around. This is especially true for documents like a Power of Attorney, living will (aka advance directive), and will. A practitioner of elder law can help you ensure your loved one has completed all important legal documents and that they meet the standards prescribed by local and state laws.

How Can I Find an Elder Law Attorney?

If you’re in the market to hire an elder law attorney, you might wonder how to find one. We recommend:

  1. Looking for a referral. Asking friends and family for referrals is a great start. If they’ve had success with one, you might trust the professional with your affairs. 

  2. Asking attorneys that you trust from other disciplines. You can also look to attorneys who practice other areas of law for recommendations. Attorneys have networks and they like to pass referrals to each other. 

  3. Tapping your professional network. Don’t be afraid to look outside the legal community for a recommendation. Financial advisors, accountants, bankers, and other people in the business community interact with elder law attorneys and can likely lead you in the right direction.

  4. Consulting an industry trade group. You can check the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) website if all else fails. This is a professional organization for attorneys who specialize in elder law and special needs planning. Their website features a useful attorney finder to save you time in your search.

Finding the Right Elder Law Attorney for You

After collecting recommendations, it’s time to do your homework. Don’t make a decision until you’ve had a consultation, discussed your older adult’s needs, and reviewed the lawyer’s credentials. Here’s a look at what you can expect from the process.

1. Schedule a consultation 

Meeting face-to-face helps you get a feel for their demeanor and if their style is compatible with yours. Some attorneys are willing to meet with you for 15 to 30 minutes at no charge, however, be sure to ask so there are no surprises. If time allows, meet with a few lawyers and present the same scenarios to each. Then, you can compare their responses and see if any of them stand out in a good or bad way so you can make an informed decision.

2. Ask about their relevant experience 

Experience, in this context, comes with years in the field and handling situations like yours. That’s why it’s important to find an attorney who has successfully handled matters similar to your loved one’s. For example, if they need a Power of Attorney, long-term care planning, and estate planning, ask prospective attorneys to describe their experience with those matters.

3. Don’t forget the human element

Knowledge is important but communication and pleasantness go a long way as well. After meeting with a potential attorney, evaluate their responsiveness, professionalism, timeliness, and attitude. If something seems off, you might want to consider other options.

“One of the most important things when meeting with an attorney is that you should be comfortable, that you’re not rushed, and that your questions are answered,” Wendy Sheinberg, a partner at the New York and New Jersey law firm Rivkin Radler told Kiplinger.

4. Take plenty of notes

When you get the chance to sit down and interview potential elder law attorneys, be sure to take notes during and after each meeting. Then revisit the notes and see if anything notable sticks out, for good or bad.

5. Trust but verify 

Before signing on the dotted line, check your state's State Bar Association website. Look up the attorney’s name or Bar number to make sure they’re in good standing. This will also indicate if they’ve ever been publicly disciplined.

A Pro in Your Corner

Finding an attorney you can trust with delicate matters can take time, but it’s worth the effort. As in all serious life matters, you want to work with someone who’s well-versed in their trade and is skilled at seeing how the small details fit into the larger picture. For instance, a geriatric care manager is tasked with helping families navigate the complexities of the elder care system. Similarly, an elder law attorney will consult with your loved one’s healthcare team, financial planner, accountant, insurance companies, etc., to ensure they understand your loved one’s situation. A good elder care lawyer on your side can make life easier for everyone. 

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Lauren Caggiano
Lauren Caggiano

Lauren Caggiano is an Indiana-based copywriter/editor, ACE certified personal trainer and ACE certified health coach. She has a passion for health and wellness and helping people live fuller and richer lives.