When you’re looking for an elder law attorney, you will see very few that have achieved the status of certified elder law attorney (CELA). But what does that certification mean? What does it say about the person who is a CELA, and why does it matter?
When you see the CELA designation, you can rest assured that a Certified Elder Law Attorney has been proven to hold a special degree of skill, knowledge and experience. Such certifications can be valuable and reassuring to consumers searching for expert estate planning assistance.
The Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) requirements
A CELA is a lawyer who has met the high standards required for certification as an elder law specialist by the National Elder Law Foundation. The screening process is elaborate. Only lawyers who In order to attain certification as a CELA, lawyers are required to pass an elaborate screening process that requires that for the three years prior to application the lawyer handled at least 60 elder law matters during that time and practiced elder law at least 16 hours each week. In addition, the lawyer must obtain favorable peer references from five other elder law attorneys, and attend extra continuing legal education beyond that required by lawyers who are not certified. In addition, there is an all day examination on a variety of elder law topics. Few lawyers have the knowledge required to become certified. The passage rate on the certification exam in recent years has been under 30%.
Elder law is a distinct legal field that concentrates on the special circumstances and needs of older and disabled persons. Areas within the elder law specialization include estate planning, wills, estates, trusts, guardianships, special needs planning for disabled children, powers of attorney and health care directives, retirement planning, and the protection of assets from taxes and from nursing home costs. Not all lawyers specialize in all areas within elder law.
CELA certification by the National Elder Law Foundation is the only accepted national certification in the field of Elder Law. In North Carolina the certification process has been reviewed and approved by the North Carolina Supreme Court and The American Bar Association. There is an additional certification available for lawyers who meet both the CELA requirements and the requirements for specializing in elder law as determined by the North Carolina Supreme Court. Only lawyers who are certified as CELAs or as NC State Bar Board Certified Specialists in Elder Law can state that they are certified specialists in elder law. Only lawyers certified as a CELA may use the “CELA” professional designation.
Not all elder law attorneys are Certified
But you need to be aware that there is a major distinction between lawyers who say they are “elder law attorneys” and “Certified Elder Law Attorneys.” Any lawyer can say he or she practices “elder law.” And there are quite a few lawyers who hold themselves out as being “elder law attorneys” but who have little or no experience in this area of practice. They are merely trying to “cash in” on a business opportunity at your expense. To protect yourself, you need to make sure that your elder law attorney verifies that they are Certified in Elder Law, either as a CELA or a North Carolina Board Certified Specialist.
The CELA designation can provide you with valuable information when you are choosing a lawyer. When you need legal planning services for an aging or disabled individual, it makes good common sense for you to look for a Certified Elder Law Attorney.
Dennis Toman is a Board Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) in the State of North Carolina. He is also the first lawyer to be Board Certified as a specialist in both Estate Planning and Elder Law. As the founder of The Elderlaw Firm, he has been a CELA for over 15 years. The Elderlaw Firm is located in Greensboro, North Carolina for elderlaw estate planning and serves clients in Guilford County and surrounding counties
For other locations you can find a complete list of Certified Elder Law Attorneys here.