What Is A Certified Elder Law Attorney (And How Do I Choose The Right One)?

The elderly and special needs population today faces legal issues that are increasing in both number and complexity. The issues affecting our elders and the disabled include ever-changing laws and regulations governing Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, as well as related issues such as estate planning, disability and long term care planning, guardianships, elder abuse, disability discrimination and nursing home litigation, to name just a few. But how do you sift through the number of practicing attorneys to find a suitable attorney to fit your needs?

One way is to look for a certified elder law attorney. A certified elder law attorney (“CELA”) is a lawyer who has been accredited by the American Bar Association as a specialist in the areas of elder law and special needs planning.

In order to become a CELA, the attorney must meet strict qualifications. He or she must be an attorney in good standing of the bar(s) in the place(s) in which he or she is licensed. In the three years prior to applying for certification, the attorney must have spent at least 16 hours per week, on average, practicing elder law; must have handled at least sixty (60) elder law and special needs planning matters; and must have participated in at least 45 hours of continuing legal education in the area of elder and disability law. The attorney must satisfy peer review/professional reference requirements, and must pass a full-day examination. The specific requiremnts which must be met to earn certification as an elder law attorney are set forth on the National Elder Law Foundation website, located at www.nelf.org

A good source for attorney referrals may be the various agencies in your area, including, for example, the Alzheimer’s Association, the  Social Security Administration, the State Bar Association, or your local hospital or nursing home social services representative.

Once you have narrowed your search and are contacting a law office, be prepared to ask the right questions up front. These questions include:

  • Is the attorney a certified elder law attorney?
  • Is his/her practice devoted to a certain area of law?
  • Is there a fee for the initial consultation? How are legal fees determined?

In finding the right elder law attorney for your needs, open communication between you and the law office is critical. In telephone calls and/or meetings with the attorney and staff, do not be afraid to ask questions in order to gauge the attorney’s expertise in your particular area of law. You will also be able to evaluate whether the law firm understands the special issues facing the elder law and special needs client.

Using these tools will assist you in finding the certified elder law attorney who is right for you.