Not all lawyers are adept at handling the complexities of elder law and special needs issues.
Elder Law is a relatively new and fast growing field of law that deals with specific legal issues faced by older persons. Elder Law also deals with many of the same laws that affect persons with developmental disabilities or special needs. In choosing an attorney to work for you, you need an attorney that has a thorough understanding of these laws.
Asking the Right Questions
Before committing to anyone, some questions might be “How long has the attorney been in practice?” and “What percentage of his/her practice is devoted to elder law?”. Or, another important question … “Does this attorney have special skills or knowledge in Elder Law?”
Do You Specialize in Elder Law?
This may seem like an obvious question; but it is rarely asked. In fact, the word “specialize” is a word permitted to be used by only a handful of attorneys statewide. Although any attorney can advertise himself as an “elder law attorney”, the Florida Bar limits the use of the word “specialist” and “expert” to only those attorneys who have: practiced predominantly in the field of elder law for greater than 5 years; demonstrated a special level of knowledge through a rigorous examination; and have scored high marks for ethics and professionalism among other Florida elder law attorneys to become “Board Certified”.
What Areas of Law Does Your Firm Handle?
It is important you select an attorney having a unique understanding of the laws that have impact upon the elderly and persons with disabilities. Elder Law combines elements of the following:
• Guardianship and incapacity issues (contested, uncontested, guardian advocacy)
• Medicare and Medicaid
• Social Security (SSI, SSDI) and disability issues
• Veterans benefits
• Estate planning (Wills, Trusts, Advance Directives)
• Durable Powers of Attorney
• Special Needs Trusts (testamentary, inter vivos, first party, pooled)
• Long Term Care needs
• Elder abuse and exploitation
• Preservation of assets
• Insurance issues (supplemental and long term care)
• Administration of estates (probate and trusts)
Are You a Member of Any Relevant Organizations?
There are numerous organizations (national, state and local) that focus on elder law and special needs issues. Is the attorney involved in these organizations? Does the attorney volunteer or hold positions of leadership within these organizations? On the state or local level, ask if the attorney is an active member of the Area Agency on Aging or any other equivalent group.
Are You a “Super Lawyer”?
The designation of “Super Lawyer” is a title granted to only the top 5% of all lawyers in a given area or expertise. Because Super Lawyers are chosen by their peers, this designation is especially impressive. It means that the elder law attorney you are speaking to is a trusted professional that other attorneys will turn to when the need arises.
Do You Educate Others About Elder Law Issues?
If an attorney regularly gives lectures on behalf of the Florida Bar or has speaking engagements on elder law and special needs, you can be sure he or she has an indepth understanding of Elder Law.
Do You Charge for Your Initial Consultation?
Many attorneys, such as personal injury attorneys, will give you an initial consultation for free or over the phone. Generally, this is not standard practice for most elder law attorneys. Yet, still some are surprised to learn that our firm charges a consultation fee for meeting with either Emma or Gerald, in person or over the phone. It is our opinion that for those who do not charge a consultation fee, the initial meeting is little more than a “getting to know you” session.
At your initial consultation with Emma or Gerald, you’ll have our undivided attention to your specific set of circumstances. Because of the level of attention given to you, we’ve got to charge for the time we could be working on existing client matters.
We know your time is valuable, and so is ours. We expect to accomplish quite a lot at our first meeting with you. We want to determine the scope of your problem, educate you about the laws affecting your circumstances, offer suggestions on how to address your problem, decide on how you want to proceed, and collect the information we need to begin the work. Although you may have not met us before, the initial consultation is far more than a “getting to know you” session.
We strive to make this fee as affordable as possible. And, we’ve been told by hundreds of satisfied customers that the expense was well worth it.
But, what if I just have one quick question?
We hear this question all the time. While it may be true on some rare occasions that an inquiry can be handled with a quick question and answer, that is a rare exception from the norm. Unfortunately, there’s no way we can make that determination until committing to speak with you. Only after you have made the investment of the initial consultation, allowing us to adequately evaluate and discuss your unique situation, can we provide you with guidance based upon our legal knowledge and years of experience.