Choosing an Elder Law Attorney
Finding a Los Angeles estate planning lawyer who can help with elder law is easy. The phonebook and Internet are full of advertisements for attorneys claiming expertise in all areas. Finding the right attorney, however, is a different matter.
With the ever-changing complexities in tax codes, legal issues, and real estate matters, elder law attorney in Los Angeles must have a broad understanding of factors that can impact any situation while avoiding future problems. And on top of having expertise in elder law matters, you want someone who can adapt to your specific situation and needs.
Finding the right Los Angeles elder law attorney will take some effort, but here are some areas to consider for your search.
What Do Elder Law Attorneys Do?
Elder law attorneys are essentially advocates for the elderly and their loved ones. They specialize in the needs of older adults who have different needs than younger adults.
Los Angeles elder law lawyers handle a wide range of legal matters affecting older or disabled people: health care issues, long term care planning, guardianship, retirement, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and more. Not only do these attorneys handle important financial and estate planning matters, but they also help with day-to-day issues affecting the care of seniors, like assisted living and life planning.
Here are some of the primary areas Los Angeles elder law attorneys help their clients:
- Discuss the importance of estate planning and wills.
- Create the necessary durable power of attorney documents.
- Provide help with health care planning, long-term care options, and health care power of attorney.
- Financial representation, including financial planning, housing, income, estate issues, tax matters, and durable financial power of attorney.
- Help in the selection and appointment of a legal guardian.
- Assistance with locating long-term care facilities and managing assisted living costs.
- Explain nursing home resident rights and work with nursing home claims.
- Draft a living will or other advance directives.
Getting a recommendation from a friend or family member is a great place to start in a search for an attorney. If they have a lawyer that they are happy with, it could be worth investigating. You can also check community groups, online forums, or social clubs. A good tip is to get a referral from someone who has similar legal needs to your own.
In fact, even if your friends and family only know great non-elder law attorneys, it is still worth making the call. Good lawyers typically know other good lawyers with other specialties. With luck, they can refer you to a colleague they respect.
You can also check with financial advisors, accountants, and fiduciaries as they are professionals who often work with elder law attorneys in Los Angeles, CA. If you already work with and trust one of these professionals, ask them for a referral.
A final place worth checking is the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). This professional organization has an online tool to help find attorneys in your area.
While you are checking for referrals, make sure to look at reviews. Whether you talk to past or current clients or you read comments on a review site, make sure to see what people are saying. Keep in mind that people tend to post more negative comments than they do positive ones. It is worth looking for any patterns or repeated themes to ensure you are finding a good fit for your personality and needs.
Meet for your initial consultation
Once you get referrals and read reviews, you can start deciding as to who to actually hire. While it may be tempting to just go with the first person on your list, don’t make the official decision without first having a meeting, discussing your needs, and asking the right questions.
An in-person meeting helps you get a feel for your potential lawyer’s approach and style. Many law offices offer a free initial consultation. To make the most of your time, prepare a summary of your needs beforehand. Present the same situation to each lawyer that you meet so you can compare their responses. This will help you gauge how they differ in practice or confirm legitimacy in their answers.
Gauge their experience and credentials
Be prepared to ask questions to get a grasp on the lawyer’s experience. It’s possible that even the most experienced Los Angeles elder care attorney won’t be an expert in every area. Learn about their network and who they rely on to assist with their cases. Throw them a couple of scenarios and ask how they’ve worked with those issues in the past.
At a minimum, attorneys must be licensed in the state where they practice and must be registered by the Bar Association. It may also be beneficial to find attorneys who are members of specialized national consortiums, like the Elder Counsel or the National Academy of Elder Law. These professional organizations work to provide members with materials, information, and continuing education in the realm of elder law. They also vet members to ensure that they follow an aspirational, ethical, and professional set of standards.
Attorneys can also pursue Board Certification, which evaluates their exceptional skills, ethics, and proficiency in specific areas of law.
Meeting with multiple lawyers can get confusing. Take notes during your consultations about what each lawyer said and how they answer your questions. Keep track of other remarkable details, such as their certifications or even their manner of interacting with you, as well. Anything that helps distinguish each attorney from others will be helpful when you review the information to make a final decision. Here are some points for evaluation:
- Are they polite and professional?
- Do they return your phone calls promptly?
- Do they take time to explain things so that you understand them?
- Do they follow through on what they say they’ll do?
- How will they charge you?
That final question is a critical aspect to document. Lawyers have a variety of ways that they bill clients. Some lawyers charge for certain tasks by the hour. In this case, make sure your attorney keeps a detailed log of how much time they spend on your case. Other tasks may require a flat fee. For example, preparing a will or trust might cost a flat rate as opposed to being charged hourly.
Many lawyers use a combination of billing techniques, so make sure you understand what and how you’ll be charged.
Making the Final Decision
Once you’ve met with a few possible attorneys, take some time to review your notes. You want to find a Los Angeles estate planning attorney you can fully trust as you will be sharing some of the most intimate details of your life with this person. Pay attention to anything especially crucial for you. Once you decide, make the call and greet your new elder law attorney.