Elder law attorneys are lawyers who help seniors and their families with a variety of legal issues. Anyone can call themselves an “elder law” attorney. One way of finding someone truly qualified is to look for a “Certified Elder Law Attorney” and a North Carolina State Bar Specialist in Elder Law. There are only a handful of North Carolina Certified Elder Law Attorneys.
Elder law or elder care attorneys typically help families, in the following ways:
- preserve retirement savings and protect the home, through Medicaid planning and other strategies;
- navigate through a care crisis (whether at home, in assisted living or a nursing home) to avoid impoverishment;
- plan and administer an estate, to comply with the complicated estate laws and save you time and headaches;
- assist with special needs planning, for lawsuits as well as when grandparents wish to leave gifts for grandchildren who are receiving government benefits;
- represent guardians for incompetency proceedings; and
- create and administer trusts to avoid probate and preserve assets.
The largest organization of elder law attorneys is called the National Elder Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and any lawyer can join. Lawyers who are certified through the National Elder Law Foundation specialize in Elder Law, demonstrated by substantial involvement in the field, passing a rigorous exam, and having references from other lawyers in this field. There are also other requirements for extra continuing legal education, and codes of conduct to ensure high level of knowledge and experience.
When you’re looking for an elder law attorney, find out about whether this is their specialty. Also, when you’re planning ahead, look for a lawyer who focuses on estate planning and trusts in elder law. Elder law is a broad field. An elder law attorney who litigates cases may not be the right one to also draft a detailed trust to preserve assets. However, if you are in the middle of a contested guardianship dispute, then you definitely want the assistance of the litigation attorney.
Medicaid application are a particular area of focus for some elder law attorneys. Be sure to work with a lawyer and a law firm who handles many applications each month. Some law firms have on staff former DSS case workers, who bring additional insights and understanding to the Medicaid eligibility process.
Unlike many other areas of law practice, elder law is defined by the needs of the client rather than by a particular field of law. An elder law attorney often helps at the intersection of health care, finances, family concerns and legal issues. Many elder law attorneys also recognize that their clients’ needs often extend beyond basic legal services. Look for elder law attorneys are linked to a network of professionals in their community who serve the senior population, sometimes called the “aging network.”
So when you’re looking for an elder law attorney, don’t rely just on an advertisement in the Yellow Pages that says “elder law” attorney. Look for a lawyer who truly focuses on the type of elder law that you need, with demonstrated expertise and experience.