An elder law attorney can help family caregivers to manage the lives of their elderly parents, dealing with essential documents, managing the estate, and ensuring family members have the necessary rights to provide the level of care needed.
In this guide to finding an elder law attorney, we’ll help you through some of the necessary steps and ensure you find the best and most affordable attorney for your needs.
Step One: Understand When an Elder Law Attorney is Needed
As an adult child of an elderly parent, you may have a few questions about their estate, finances, and care, especially if they have recently been diagnosed with dementia or have lost a spouse.
This is where an elder law attorney comes in. They can help to answer questions such as:
- Can I become my parent’s guardian?
- How can I get care for my parent while protecting their assets?
- What happens to the estate when they die?
- What benefits and services do they qualify for?
- Do they need a Living Will or Power of Attorney?
As with any type of legal service, elder law attorneys don’t come cheap. However, the right one could save you thousands of dollars and endless hours of frustration, making their services essential in certain circumstances.
Navigating the complications associated with estates, debts, wills, insurance, and care services are what these lawyers do best.
Step Two: Get a Recommendation
Even in the digital age, where you’re always one click away from reading countless user reviews, consumers still place more weight on the advice of their friends and family members. Not only do they know the recommendation is 100% honest, but they can also ask questions that they can’t ask of an online reviewer.
It helps, therefore, to speak with your friends and see if anyone has experience with elder law attorneys. Make sure they are upfront and honest about their experiences and don’t stop at one person.
Chances are that person didn’t do their research and merely accepted the first person they encountered, which means they aren’t best person to give advice. However, by asking several people, you can compare experiences.
If you can’t get any recommendations, check with the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). It has a Find a Lawyer feature that will point you toward specialist attorneys in your area.
Once you have a short list, run their name through Google and see what comes up. If there are any concerns about their methods or their prices, you’ll learn about them here. Don’t place too much weight on a single bad review, as it could be a competitor or someone who just doesn’t like them personally. At the same time, if the bad reviews outnumber the good, look elsewhere.
Step Three: Verify Their Credentials
Don’t just take their credentials at face value. Scams are common in the legal sector and there is no shortage of fake legal websites out there. You’ll also find many lawyers who are not licensed to operate in the state or anywhere else.
Check their details against the State Bar Association, such as this one in the state of California.
Step Four: Book a Consultation
Most lawyers offer a free consultation, often lasting for only 30 minutes or less. This will be conducted over the phone or in person. It gives you a chance to ask some questions, gauge their experience level, and judge whether they can help you.
Not all lawyers will offer this free consultation, however, and the fact they charge a fee does not suggest that they are somehow less trustworthy. Make sure you know how much the consultation will cost beforehand, as you don’t want to be hit with any nasty surprises at the end.
Step Five: Look for Quick and Professional Responses
When you contact them, are you speaking to an assistant or do you actually have a direct line to the attorney? More importantly, when you leave a message, do they call you back quickly or after several days?
It’s easy to make allowances for them at this early stage, as you have yet to sign a contract and give them any money, but if they’re unprofessional now, that probably won’t change when you sign on the dotted line.
You need someone who follows through with their promises, allows you to contact them when needed, and doesn’t leave you hanging for days.
Step Six: Look for Relevant Experience
Law is a vast subject and even specialist areas like elder law have many different facets. During your initial consultation, ask questions about their experience, and determine if they have helped people in the same situation as you.
They may feed you a scripted sales patter, but if you keep pushing, and ask more specific questions, you can get an honest answer out of them. It should be relatively easy to determine whether they are being genuine or not and, if so, just how well-versed they are in that particular discipline.
Step Seven: Don’t Settle Straight Away
Many clients settle with the first lawyer that agrees to a consultation.
As any used car salesman can attest, once you sit the customer down and talk business, they are significantly more likely to sign.
Regardless, you are under no obligation to agree just because you had a discussion together.
Take notes during the consultation, consider everything from their experience to their demeanor, and then compare these to the next lawyer, and the next. As long as you’re getting free or cheap consultations and are not in a rush, you can try multiple attorneys.
If you’re going to be spending a lot of money and potentially using that lawyer for years to come, it only makes sense that you would take your time. Of course, if you simply need to finalize a Will or Power of Attorney, you can probably spend less time comparing.