Eldercare is an area of law that deals with the legal issues senior citizens face, including retirement, age discrimination, estate planning, health care decision-making, and government benefits, to name a few. In a person’s golden years, these issues can be a source of great stress and confusion that a senior citizen shouldn’t have to deal with in retirement. That’s why an elder care attorney is so important for you, your parent, or your loved one to have.
Choosing an elder care lawyer is equally as important of a decision as choosing a primary care provider or a personal accountant. You want to know you’re getting the best possible service from someone who has your best intentions at heart and is skilled at their job. We’re here to make the selection process easier by giving you the 10 questions you should ask the person you intend to make your elder care attorney.
#1: What are your qualifications and credentials?
Just as you wouldn’t want a podiatrist operating on your heart, you wouldn’t want a divorce lawyer or an immigration lawyer dealing with matters of senior care they aren’t experienced with. Make sure the attorney you hire specializes in elder law and has dedicated their practice to this purpose.
You can confirm an attorney’s elder law certification with the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, the ElderCounsel, or the National Elder Law Foundation, which is authorized by the American Bar Association to certify elder care lawyers. These organizations hold legal professionals to a high standard of care that you can trust.
Likewise, make sure the attorney is in good standing with the state bar association and is licensed to practice law in your state. An out-of-state attorney may not be familiar with the legal nuances of the region.
#2: How much experience do you have as an elder care attorney?
New lawyers admittedly have a lot of zeal and enthusiasm at the start of their career, but enthusiasm can rarely rival experience when an unexpected, complicated, or uncommon problem crops up. A seasoned attorney who has sorted through the hairiest of legal situations over the years will likely know what to do, having worked with clients in similar situations in the past. Make sure the lawyer you choose has many years of real-world practice under their belts for your own peace of mind.
#3: Can I have some references of people or institutions that recommend you?
Many law firms have Google reviews and client testimonials on their site, but they’re not always reliable. Some practices incentivize their clients to leave positive reviews, so if you really want to be sure you’re getting a great lawyer, ask for some names and numbers of colleagues, practices, health care professionals, and/or former clients who can speak to the lawyer’s character and efficacy. You’ll get a cherry-picked list of names, but at least you can hear firsthand accounts from people who have nothing to gain from lying to you.
#4: What is your rate?
Never retain an attorney before asking how much they charge for their services, how they calculate fees, and how they obtain payment. Some attorneys charge a flat rate while others charge hourly; some offer free consultations and others charge a fee. Just be aware that he or she may not be able to provide an accurate estimate for your case without proper consultation to get familiar with your circumstances.
#5: What is your level of experience with Medicare and Medicaid?
Clients tend to assume that every elder law attorney is an expert on the Medicare and Medicaid system, but this isn’t always the case. These programs are quite complicated, and it takes time for legal professionals to acquaint themselves thoroughly. Long-term care planning is a key piece of your loved one’s (or your own) future. As such, choose an attorney well-versed in Medicaid coverage and eligibility who can guide you through the process seamlessly from the application to any required appeals.
#6: Who will be my point of contact?
Every firm does business differently, so don’t assume the lawyer who conducts your initial consultation will be your point of contact throughout your relationship. Some attorneys act as a one-man operation while others handle the strategy and leave the implementation to paralegals to keep their costs lower. If you prefer the familiarity and simplicity of working with one person throughout the legal process, it’s worth asking who will be handling each aspect of your care in case this particular lawyer hands off certain aspects to junior associates.
#7: What experience do you have with problems like mine?
It’s a good idea to find a lawyer who has dealt with the issues that you’re most worried about or the problems you think you are most likely to face. If you’re looking for a lawyer to handle your estate and long-term care planning, ask them to speak to their experience in those areas to get an idea of how they could help you.
#8: Can you travel for in-home visits?
If you or your elderly loved one is too frail for regular in-office visits, you need to find out ahead of time whether or not the attorney is willing to make house calls. If they are, they may have additional fees you should know about. Exorbitantly high travel fees or an unwillingness to accommodate a client’s immobility may indicate that a particular lawyer is not a good fit for your needs.
#9: How responsive are you to emails and phone calls?
Bigger-name lawyers with lots of clients will generally be slower to respond to your communications than ones who only take on a few clients at a time. This means when urgent matters arise, you may not be able to get a hold of your attorney as soon as you need to. Some lawyers will get back to you within a business day while others are simply too overburdened for that rapid of a response time. That’s why it is prudent to ask about the response time you can expect so you have an expectation before you hire them.
#10: Has your firm ever been disciplined by the bar association? If so, why and when?
One of the most important traits in an attorney is his or her commitment to ethics. You need someone you can trust with your assets, health, and overall well-being. You can ask a lawyer directly if they have been disciplined by the bar association, but if this question is too bold for your liking, this information is easy to obtain online if you know where he or she is licensed. With this information, you can visit that state’s bar association website and locate the listing of the state’s lawyer disciplinary agency and search the attorney name in their records.
Hire Collins Family & Elder Law Group for Your Elder Care Matters
Collins Family & Elder Law Group is proud to be a certified elder care law firm devoted to protecting you and your family. We have decades of collective experience dealing in matters of elder law and would love to provide you with a consultation to show you how we can help you navigate this stage of life. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.