The saying “nothing is certain but death and taxes” is used to describe the inevitable. Much like death and taxes, aging is another inevitable consequence of life that comes with a unique set of legal implications.
As we get older, our legal needs evolve. This evolution makes it essential to have an elder law lawyer near you on your books. If your loved one is aging or finding themselves in declining health, you may also have inquiries about guardianship, conservatorship, or other issues related to caring for an aging loved one. These situations are prime examples of when the services of an elder law lawyer can be extremely helpful.
What Is an Elder Law Lawyer?
Elder law lawyers represent older adults, their employed caregivers or nurses, or their families. They have a deep understanding of the issues with aging, such as estate planning, retirement, disability planning, nursing home placement, probate and administration of an estate, long-term care planning, and more.
Elder law lawyers also leverage their knowledge on government benefits that older adults become eligible for as they age and help them to pursue these benefits. Not only do they understand the legalities surrounding these issues, but they have experience dealing with the emotional roller coasters that can come with them.
One common mistake is to equate the job of an elder law attorney with that of an estate planning lawyer. Wrong. While elder law lawyers protect your income or assets so they can be used for your benefit while alive, estate planning is entirely different. Estate planning entails the distribution of your assets in a manner that gets you the most tax advantage after your death.
What Does an Elder Attorney Do?
An elder law attorney is an attorney who specializes in legal issues related to older adults and the elderly. Elder law attorneys can help with various issues, including Medicare and Medicaid planning (especially when diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or any other ailment that requires long-term health care), estate planning, guardianship, and more.
Elder law attorneys can also help with elder abuse and exploitation issues. If you suspect that an elderly loved one is being mistreated, an elder law attorney can help investigate the situation and take appropriate legal action.
If you are an older adult or have an aging parent or relative, you may want to consider meeting with an elder law lawyer near you to discuss your specific situation and needs. An elder law attorney can provide valuable guidance and assistance in navigating the complex legal landscape surrounding aging and eldercare.
Though they primarily help aging individuals legally navigate the realities they now face due to their age, often, an elder law lawyer will be able to help their clients avoid these problems altogether.
A bank advises an older adult to invest in an annuity, knowing that such an individual may not be around long enough to gain the income of such a long-term investment. Once the elderly individual makes this investment, a termination would mean withdrawing before the agreed maturity date, which can attract a heavy cancellation penalty.
In such a case, an elder law lawyer can intervene, lodging a complaint to the bank on behalf of the client, demanding that the invested funds be fully returned without the applicable penalty. If the matter escalates to a dispute, an elder law lawyer can provide legal representation.
It is also worth mentioning that some elder law attorneys are conferred with Certified Elder Law Attorneys (CELA) status by the National Elder Law Foundation, while others are not. However, a Certified Elder Law Attorney is mandated under law to meet licensing, a minimum threshold of experience, and continuing education requirements in elder law.
Pro tip: Certification should not be a deal-breaker for you if you’re looking to hire a lawyer for elder law near you, as an uncertified elder law lawyer may be just as skilled or experienced as a Certified Elder Law attorney. For this reason, a consultation is always recommended before hiring any new lawyer.
When Should You Hire an Elder Law Lawyer?
Hiring an elder law lawyer can be a difficult decision. First and foremost, you want to ensure that you are getting the best representation possible. At the same time, you also want to make sure you are not overspending on legal fees.
Here are a scenarios when you should consider hiring an elder law lawyer:
1. When you need help with estate planning.
Elder law lawyers can help with various estate planning issues, including wills, trusts, and powers of attorney. If you are unsure about what estate planning documents you need or how to create them, a lawyer for elder law near you can help.
2. When you need help with long-term care planning.
If you or a loved one is facing the need for long-term care, an elder law lawyer can help you navigate the complex rules and regulations surrounding Medicaid and other government benefits. An elder law lawyer can also help you create a plan to pay for long-term care without depleting your assets.
3. When you have questions about Medicare or Social Security.
Elder law lawyers are well-versed in the rules and regulations governing Medicare and Social Security. If you have questions about eligibility, benefits, or claims, an elder law lawyer can help.
4. When you need help with guardianship or conservatorship.
If you seek guardianship of a minor child or an incapacitated adult, an elder law lawyer can help you navigate the legal process. Elder law lawyers can also help with conservatorship proceedings, which are used to protect the assets of an incapacitated person.
5. When you have questions about elder abuse or exploitation.
If you suspect that a loved one is the victim of elder abuse or exploitation, an elder law lawyer can help you understand your legal options and take action to protect your loved one.
6. When you need help with any other legal issue affecting seniors.
Elder law lawyers are familiar with the unique legal issues that affect older adults. If you have any other legal issues such as guardianship, conservatorship, or estate planning, an elder law lawyer can help.
How Do I Choose an Elder Law Attorney?
There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing an elder law attorney:
- Ensure that the attorney has the relevant credentials and experience to deal with your issue. Whether it's estate planning, long-term care planning, or guardianship, you want to be confident that your lawyer knows what they are doing and is the best representative for your case.
- Find an attorney who you can trust. Your attorney will be handling sensitive information and making important decisions on your behalf. You should feel comfortable communicating with them and feel safe knowing that they have your best interests at heart.
- Make sure that the attorney you choose is a good fit for you personally. Your lawyer is someone you will be working closely with, so it's vital that you get along and feel like they understand your situation and what you are going through.
Take some time to interview several elder law attorneys near you before deciding on who will take on your case. Ask about their experience, how they plan to approach the issues you are facing, and how they would work with you. Use this conversation to evaluate their customer service as this could be someone you will work with for many years.
Choosing the best elder law lawyer near you is an important decision, so take your time and choose wisely.
How Much Does the Average Elder Law Lawyer Cost?
The cost associated with hiring an elder law lawyer depends on the type and scope of services provided by the lawyer. Elder law encompasses many legal areas, including estate planning, probate, guardianship, Medicaid planning, and more. As a result, elder law lawyers typically charge by the hour, with rates ranging from $150 to $400 per hour. Some lawyers may also charge a flat fee for certain services, such as estate planning.
In addition to hourly rates, some lawyers for elder law near you may also charge a retainer fee which typically ranges from $500 to $5,000, depending on the type and complexity of the legal matter.
Do Elder Law Attorneys Typically Charge for a Consultation?
Some elder law lawyers may offer a free initial consultation—usually, a brief meeting, lasting 30 minutes to an hour, during which the lawyer will get to know you and your legal needs. After the consultation, the lawyer will be able to provide you with an estimate of the total cost of their services so that you can make an educated decision about who you will hire.