Getting reliable advice about estates, taxes, and end-of-life issues can be crucial to your peace of mind and that of your loved one. Finding the right elder law attorney for your needs can be difficult, however. That's because so many issues—from Medicare and Social Security claims to disability planning and the establishment of trusts—now come under the heading of elder law.
With so many options available, your first step is to pinpoint the specific kinds of issues you would like to address so you can find the most suitable attorney for the task at hand. You may find, on further consideration, that the issue would be better resolved by an accountant or social services agency, sparing yourself the expense of legal fees.
If you decide that legal counsel is necessary, your principal task until you select an attorney will be asking questions. Begin by asking your friends for the names of attorneys they would recommend. You can also contact local nonprofits such as the Alzheimer's Association or your state or local bar association for ideas. Once you have a list of candidates, it's time to call their offices and quiz their secretaries and receptionists. Find out:
- How long has the attorney been in practice?
- What percentage of their practice is devoted to elder law?
- What areas of elder law do they specialize in?
If you like what you hear, schedule a consultation, but first ask if there is a fee. You should also find out what information you should bring to the consultation.
At the consultation, you should continue your cross-examination. Once you have given the attorney an overview of your situation, you should ask:
- What will it take to resolve the situation?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of the courses of action I could take?
- Has the attorney accepted cases like this before?
- Who will handle the case?
- If a trial will be involved, who will do the trial work?
- How are fees computed and how often will I be billed?
You don't have to make your decision on the spot. Once you have talked to the attorneys on your short list, give yourself some time to mull over what you have learned. You are looking for a good fit—so expertise and experience are critical. But personality should also play an important role in your decision. If you don't feel comfortable with a specific attorney, choose another.