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What to Look For When Hiring an Elder Law Attorney

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “elder law” before and may even have met an elder law attorney but do you know what it actually means to be an elder law attorney?

I’m often asked if, as an elder law attorney, I only work with old people. The truth of the matter is that I am able to assist those in their days of winter plan accordingly to do many things, including, qualify for governmental benefits like Medicaid or Veterans benefits, avoid probate, shelter assets from taxes or long term care costs, guarantee that if one spouse needs care that the at-home spouse will be able to afford to live.

However, not every “elder law attorney” is created equal. If an attorney states that they do a little bit of everything – run! You do not want to hire a jack of all trades when dealing with something so important to your legal long term status. As most doctors have specialties, the same is true for attorneys. If I need brain surgery, I’m not going to hire a podiatrist. The same holds true for those who specialize in elder law.

A woman contacted me after hiring an attorney who promised that he could restructure her and her husband’s estate in order for her husband to qualify for governmental benefits. Unfortunately, the attorney didn’t have much experience with the devastating consequences of tax implications and state rules surrounding such programs and therefore, not only did the couple violate the state gifting rules but the husband was ultimately disqualified and denied nursing coverage.

Rather than try to fix another’s mistakes, I hope to educate the baby boomer population that pre-planning is key. My job is to counsel clients and their families about the legal aspects of health and long-term care planning, Medicaid, estate planning, nursing home issues and patients’ rights, public benefits, Veterans benefits, Medicare and Social Security claims and appeals, disability planning, including use of durable powers of attorneys and livings wills, legal capacity, probate and the conservation of estates as well as the potential tax consequences of their actions. What are your goals? Unless we are proactive and put a strategy in place, you may end up spending the legacy you intend to transfer to the next generation.

How to discern a good elder law attorney from a not-so-good one: Meet them. And then ask how much experience they have in this area. Evaluate their bed-side manner. If their customer service is lacking, do you really want to be married to them during this process? Understand that most elder law issues take time so understand their fee structure and what it includes. And check their credentials – the Pennsylvania Bar Association website has all actively practicing attorneys’ information for your review.

A proper elder law attorney should be aware of the ever changing rules surrounding governmental benefits, social security and the tax code. They are not a financial planner. But what makes an elder law attorney stand out is recognizing that their clients’ needs go beyond the conventional tools of the legal system. The clients’ real need is for an all-encompassing, comprehensive plan that will provide for not only their physical requirements but their financial ones as well.

For more information on how Conti Law can assist you with your comprehensive plan, call us today for your consultation.

This industry insight was written by Attorney Michele P. Conti, an estate planning and elder law attorney, with a focus on tax preservation. Michele attended Allegheny College in Meadville, Oxford University, Duquesne University School of Law and received her LL.M. in Taxation from Villanova University. Michele has worked in the estate planning and elder law arena throughout her entire career, founding Conti Law last year. Michele’s primary goal is to educate everyone, no matter their age, regarding the proper way to plan and be successful in your planning strategies.