Did you know that the entire month of May is designated nationally as Elder Law Month? May also happens to be the month designated for ALS Awareness, Asthma Awareness, Better Hearing and Speech, Mental Health Awareness, Mobility Awareness, and Stoke Awareness.
While having a specific month on the calendar might help to bring awareness to some of the issues mentioned above, these issues continue to be foremost in the minds and hearts of many people EVERY month of the calendar year. You or someone you know is dealing with Elder Law issues right now OR someone close to you may be dealing with Elder Law issues in the very near future.
What is Elder Law?
Elder Law deals with legal issues that affect people as they age. Elder Law encompasses many different fields of law, including, but not limited to:
Access to health care in a managed environment
Age discrimination in employment
Applying for government benefits such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and Veterans’ Benefits
Disability planning (which may include the execution of Durable Powers of Attorney, Trusts, Health Care Powers of Attorney, and Living Wills)
Elder abuse and fraud recovery
Estate planning (which may include Wills, Trusts, or both)
Guardianship or conservatorships
Mental Health Law
Placement in long-term care communities
Probate and Administration of Estates
Retirement benefit management (including public and private retirement benefits, survivor benefits, and pension benefits)
How Do I Choose Which Elder Law Attorney to Use?
Most attorneys who practice Elder Law handle only SOME of the matters mentioned above. A good Elder Law attorney should be willing and able to refer you to other local Elder Law attorneys who practice in specific areas they do not. You certainly want to choose an attorney who REGULARLY handles the issues that are pertinent to your own individual situation. Such attorneys should have strong networking relationships with social workers, geriatric care managers, psychologists, insurance providers, financial advisors, and other long-term care specialists, who may be of additional assistance to you or your loved one, if and when needed. Putting together a workable ongoing plan often requires the cooperation of many related professionals and the attorney you choose should be willing and able to be a functional cog in the machine.
Who Knows the Elder Law Attorneys in Your Area?
While the Yellow Pages or Google might be a place where you can get a list of Elder Law attorneys (or at least a list of ones who spend money marketing themselves that way), you still won’t know which of those attorneys on the list are competent, trustworthy, or otherwise reputable in the community. The best places sources for specific, qualified referrals would be local and national agencies who specialize in working with the problems people face as they age. Such agencies might include:
Area Agency (or Council) on Aging
National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA)
Long-term Care Facilities’ Staff and Administrators
Senior Services Personnel
What Questions Should I ask?
Before you sit down with a particular attorney, you should ask whether Elder Law is the focus of his or her practice. Too many attorneys merely dabble in Elder Law. The issues involved are far too sensitive (and the laws which govern such issues change far too frequently) for a mere dabbler to be effective. How long has the attorney been practicing Elder Law? Is there a consultation fee, and if so, how much is it? Will the consultation fee be applied to work done pursuant to your consultation? Given the nature of your particular concerns, what information should you bring with you to the initial consultation? In my experience, it is better for clients to bring more information rather than less; you’ll never know what your attorney might need. If the amount of paperwork involves a heavy crate of files that is too cumbersome to lug around, then the crate of information can be left in the locked car in the parking lot. If such information is needed, then it can be accessed easily.
More than anything, you should feel comfortable with the attorney you select. There is a certain amount of synergy and trust that is necessary, especially if you are sharing personal private family issues and personal private family financial information. If, after the initial consultation, you do not feel that your information is safe or that the attorney truly understands and is willing to address the issues that he or she can, then you are not obligated to hire that attorney to complete any legal work.
If we can help you sort through and resolve any Elder Law issues that you or a loved one might be experiencing, please do not hesitate to contact us or give us a call at 336-904-2909. Whatley Law. We help you prepare, plan, and prevail!