Last time we talked about what elder care attorneys do and whether you need one. Today we’re going to go into some tips on how to hire the best elder law attorney for you and your family.
Of course, hiring an attorney – any attorney – is like choosing a doctor, or a nursing home, or even a plumber: you ask questions. And there are 7 questions you should ask before hiring an elder care attorney.
The 7 Questions You Need To Ask Before Hiring An Elder Care Attorney
Just a note: These are the 7 questions you need to ask. If you have more, fire away.
1. How long have you been in practice and where?
This is the first thing you want to know. Being a good lawyer takes experience. We’re not yet talking about how long the lawyer has specialized in elder law. First you need to know how long they’ve been practicing law, period.
The “where” is important for two reasons. One, if they’ve only recently moved to your state then you’re going to be asking more questions as to how familiar they are with specific state laws. Secondly, every lawyer needs to be licensed by the state in which they work and be registered by the Bar Association of that state. Once you know where they’ve worked, you can go about researching their credentials and their record.
2. As an elder care attorney, what credentials do you hold?
If you’re going to entrust your loved one’s legal and financial issues to this person, you want to know what their credentials are to be practicing elder law to begin with. The National Elder Law Foundation (NELF) is, as of this writing, the only national organization that certifies elder care attorneys. Their certification is recognized by the American Bar Association, so you know that it’s the real thing.
That doesn’t mean that you should write off a lawyer if they’re not NELF certified. National consortiums like ElderCounsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys obligate members to a set of ethical and professional standards, and provide materials and continuing education.
In short, what you want to see is the elder law attorney you hire is dedicated to and invested in their specialization.
3. Can you give us referrals and recommendations?
While you’re definitely going to want to ask professionals you know – financial advisors, lawyers, medical professionals, the staff at your loved one’s residence – it’s also a good idea to ask the lawyer you’re thinking of hiring.
Now obviously no lawyer is going to give you the names or numbers of people who weren’t satisfied with their services. But that’s not the point, because even the best attorney in the world will have unsatisfied clients. The point is a) to hear what these people have to say and b) to see who they know. Are they giving you names of clients or of other elder care attorneys as well? Do they have recommendations or referrals from healthcare providers and medical professionals? Are there any professionals whose expertise lies in health issues your loved one is dealing with such as stroke or Alzheimer’s? The broader the spectrum, the easier it will be for you to get an accurate picture of their professionalism.
4. We would like to meet you for an initial consultation before retaining your services. Is there a set fee for that? How do you calculate ongoing fees?
Once you’ve narrowed down your search to a few attorneys, you need to meet the names behind the faces. Some lawyers charge for an initial consultation fee; others charge only if you retain their services; and others do it gratis. Find out beforehand so you won’t be caught unawares.
At the meeting, note the following (literally, as in take notes):
- Is the attorney personable? Do you feel you can talk to them?
- How does the attorney react when you ask questions?
- Is this someone your loved one will feel comfortable with?
- What’s the office staff like? Are they courteous?
- Was the attorney punctual?
Besides all that, don’t forget to ask how their fee scale works. Some attorneys charge per hour. Others take a flat fee. There are also various documents that some attorneys charge for, while others have basically streamlined those charges into their regular fees.
Keep in mind that the flat fee might seem high, but you won’t be charged for phone time. If the attorney does charge per hour, be sure to ask how that works with emails and texts (if they provide that service).
5. If a legal document needs to be defended in court will you litigate it? If not, do you work with other elder care attorneys who will?
Not all elder care lawyers do litigation, and some of those who do charge an extra fee for it. There are also attorneys who don’t litigate in court but have arrangements with fellow lawyers who will go to court for you. Ask any questions you have about the attorney’s accepted practices and make sure they’re acceptable to you.
6. What happens if we or our loved one need assistance at home?
Not all lawyers make house calls. If this is something you anticipate needing, make sure to ask about it. In any case, house calls probably come with an extra fee. Check it out.
7. How familiar are you with Medicare and Medicaid?
This might sound like a super-specific question. But it’s really not. Because unless your loved one is quite wealthy, Medicare or Medicaid are going to be a very time-consuming aspect of their lives. And it is very, very difficult to really know them inside and out – especially since just as you think you figured out the rules, the rules change.
So there you have it: 7 questions to ask elder care attorneys before you hire one. Have any more? Let us know in the comments below.