Elder law is an area of law that focuses on the types of legal issues that affect the aging population. Elder law attorneys have a detailed knowledge of the growing elderly population and the unique needs associated with aging. The physical and mental changes that occur with age play a large role in elder law. For these reasons, older individuals who face legal issues should obtain a knowledgeable and experienced elder law attorney to deal with the complexities of legal issues facing this population specifically.
What Is Elder Law?
Elder law encompasses all aspects of the aging process, including illness and incapacity. This area of law involves planning, education, counseling, and advocacy for elderly persons. For this reason, elder law attorneys are particularly sensitive to an elderly individual’s personal needs and how they equate to legal needs. The majority of elder law clients are elderly. However, elder law attorneys also provide legal guidance and representation for family members concerned with elderly legal issues.
Some issues in elder law include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Financial planning, financing and housing opportunities, estate tax, income tax, and gift tax
- Personal care and health planning, family issues and lifetime planning, which may include living will and power of attorney considerations
- Planning for spouses of those who need care: public benefits such as insurance and Medicaid, asset protection, veterans’ benefits
- Nursing home claims and resident rights
- Guardianship, guardianship avoidance, and capacity
- Trust and will planning, probate, and planning for special needs children
National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys
The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) is a national organization founded for attorneys who are dedicated to the improvement of legal services for the aging population. Attorneys in public and private sectors can become NAELA members to maintain continuing education in elder law. Along with elder law attorneys, members of NAELA also include law professors, judges, and students. It should be noted NAELA acts as an educational and advocacy organization, and does not provide legal services or legal advice to individuals seeking an elder law attorney.
Elder Law Attorney State Certification
Some states offer voluntary elder law certification programs, such as the Florida Bar elder law board certification program. The Florida Bar certification program requires that all members have practiced law for a minimum of five years. Within the most recent two years, members must be substantially involved in practicing elder law, with 40 percent or more elder law involvement. Members must also undergo 60 hours of continued legal education and pass a written exam demonstrating specialized elder law knowledge, proficiency, and skills.
Elder Law Section Membership
Some states may also provide access to special elder law membership programs. For example, elder law attorneys in Florida may become members of the Florida Bar Elder Law Section. The Florida Bar Elder Law Section exists to promote and cultivate professionalism knowledge, and expertise in elder law practice among its members.
Choosing an Elder Law Attorney
When selecting from potential elder law attorneys, clients should ensure that the attorney they select is knowledgeable and experienced in elder law. Certain cases will involve special legal considerations. Experienced elder law attorneys will be more familiar with these legal intricacies, which may equate to a higher chance of success in the legal system.
Clients should ask the following questions when selecting from prospective elder law attorneys:
- How long has he or she been practicing law?
- What percentage of his or her practice is devoted to elder law?
- What degree of experience does the attorney have in the area of elder law concerning your legal needs?
- Does the attorney specialize in a particular area of elder law, such as guardianship or residents’ rights?
- Has the attorney had any special elder law training? If so, from which organizations?
- Is the attorney certified by an applicable elder law state board program?
- Is he or she a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys?
- Is the attorney available to fulfill your legal needs within your applicable time limitations?
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“Tips from NAELA’s ‘UnProgram’.” Elder Law Report Apr. 2012: 8. Academic OneFile. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.
Weeks, Mike. “Considerations in hiring an associate for an elder law practice.” Elder Law Report May 2011: 1+. Academic OneFile. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.