Choosing an elder law attorney to assist with estate planning, public benefits, or other areas of the law can be a very beneficial step in navigating complex issues later in life. But, choosing the wrong attorney can leave you paying more than is necessary, perhaps for someone with the wrong expertise. You must be very careful to hire someone who specializes in the very complex area of elder law.
Our team at Reformed Church Home in Old Bridge, NJ, has compiled some preliminary information to help you start thinking about the best way to select an elder law attorney in your area.
Common practice areas of elder law
Elder law is a specialized area of law that centers on legal and financial issues that typically affect seniors and their families. This category of law covers a wide range of practice areas, including:
- Healthcare Documents: There are several healthcare documents which may be considered when planning for an elderly parent or loved one. Some commonly used healthcare documents are: 1) a Living Will; 2) a Healthcare Power of Attorney; 3) a Healthcare Proxy; and 4) an Advanced Medical Directive. These documents allow an individual to appoint someone to make healthcare decisions on their behalf, but only in the event they become unable to make these decisions for themselves. Only one healthcare document is needed. Contact a qualified elder law attorney to decide which document, if any, is best for your particular situation.
- Last Will & Testament: A legal document that allows someone to control where their assets go after death. The personal representative appointed under a will has a fiduciary duty to pay the estate’s debts and distribute all remaining assets in accordance with the decedent’s wishes. Importantly, upon death, any power of attorney (POA) or healthcare document shall become void.
- Trusts: Trusts allow you to have a third party hold assets on behalf of a beneficiary, providing an alternate option to pass your estate onto children or others. Trusts often help you pay less taxes on the estate and transfer property more efficiently.
- Guardianship: Guardianship is a necessary consideration when minor children are involved. You may want to designate guardians for any minors in your care in the event of your death.
- Power of attorney (POA): Power of attorney documents are different from healthcare POA documents. A regular POA document gives another person the authority to act on your behalf in specified financial or legal matters only.
- Public benefits planning: Public benefits planning helps you navigate Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits.
- Estate taxes: Understanding how your estate will be taxed upon your death can help you better arrange your will or set up trusts to minimize taxes.
Consider these areas of practice as you determine what kind of attorney you need. Think about what you’ll want them to work on now and in the future, ideally finding someone who specializes in the area(s) you most need assistance with.
What qualifications to look for:
If you’re looking for an elder law attorney, you’ll want to find someone who specializes in the field you most need assistance in, such as estate planning, public benefits planning, or wills and trusts. A good way to find a reliable elder law attorney is to seek out referrals and recommendations from friends, advisors, your family attorney, or other people you trust. You can also search for attorneys who are part of national elder law organizations, such as the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.
You should also check the State Bar Association website for your state before hiring an elder law attorney to ensure the attorney is actively licensed to practice law in your state. This website also has information on whether the attorney has ever been publicly disciplined.
Cost of elder law attorney services:
The cost of elder law attorney services can vary between attorneys, with some charging an hourly rate and others charging a flat fee for specific tasks or documents. Ask the attorney for this information up front and go ahead and shop around to get an idea of reasonable rates. Many attorneys also offer a free initial consultation, so you can get a sense of what working with the attorney will be like and whether they’re the right fit for your situation.
If you have more questions on elder law, Reformed Church Home in Old Bridge, NJ, is willing to help. Please give us a call at 732-607-9230 ext. 109.
Note: Thank you to Joseph Costa, Costa | Nathan Elder Law Attorneys, Matawan, NJ, for his review and input on this article!