Is Your Local Elder Law Attorney the Real Deal?


This week, I thought it might be helpful to show you how to select an elder law attorney.  Finding a good attorney in any category can be challenging, but elder law is so specialized you really need an attorney who is fluent in elder law, not a weekend warrior.  If you’re not sure what an elder law attorney is, let me briefly answer that question first.  In a nutshell, an elder law attorney focuses on things like estate and tax law, Medicare, Medicaid or Medi-Cal, special needs trusts, housing for seniors, healthcare decisions, and VA benefits for individuals over 65.
You might be a little shocked to know that some individuals who are really general practitioners also consider themselves to be elder law attorneys; scary stuff for those of you who need one.  Drafting simple wills and trusts does NOT an elder law attorney make.  Wills and trusts may be a piece of the elder law puzzle at times – but there is so much more involved than that!

Think of a will as “death planning” since they really only control what happens after you die.  Since 50 is the new 40, today’s seniors need a loooong term plan so their wishes are honored if they become incapacitated before they die.  Prepsmart reports:

  • For a couple turning 65, there is a 70% chance that one of them will need long-term care.
    - Wall Street Journal
  • As the Baby boomers age, the number keeps rising. Now experts say that 65% of people over 75 need long term care. The average facility stay for older folks is about 3 years.
    - Business Week
    (This is nursing home only stay estimate and does not include home care or assisted living, which usually come first.)
  • 97% of people over age 85 require assistance in the last year of life. – The LTC Report
  • Singles are at risk, because they’re usually not with someone who can properly care for them. The same is true for wives who tend to outlast their husbands by seven year average. – JB Quinn


If that took your breath away for a moment, remember, it’s only terrifying if you don’t do anything about it.  If you’re reading this, you’ve been warned.  Now would be a great time for a real elder law attorney to enter the picture, which may be more difficult than you think – unfortunately.  When trying to find an elder law specialist, it’s helpful to remember the difference between a traditional estate planner and an elder lawyer.  An estate planner typically helps you minimize estate taxes, avoid probate court, and distribute assets from the deceased person to his or her heirs.  A good elder lawyer, on the other hand, deals with death planning AND life planning; specifically as it relates to long term health care needs.  Since families can easily spend several hundred thousand dollars when both a husband and wife have long term care needs, a good elder law attorney will work hard to protect your family’s assets during your lifetime to avoid a catastrophe.

A colleague of mine often says to his clients, “No one wants to be out of money and out of options before they are out of breath,” and I couldn’t agree more!  While no attorney can guarantee specific results, a good elder law attorney will guide you through the minefield of public benefits, veteran’s benefits, Medicare, Social Security, special needs trusts, powers of attorney, and Medicaid/Medi-Cal.  As an estate planner and elder law attorney, it’s my job is to increase my client’s quality of life – not just figure out who-gets-what after you’re gone.

If you’re looking for the real deal, here’s some quick tips:

-Think elder law attorney, not general practitioner.  You wouldn’t see a Cosmetic Surgeon for a brain tumor.  The elder law field is a very narrow (and complex) niche within the entire practice of law.  Only use an attorney who can demonstrate that he or she is working in the area you need on a daily basis.

-Ask people you know and trust for recommendations.  Word of mouth referrals from friends, family, co-workers, colleagues, professionals, and other attorneys you’ve used in the past can be a great way to find who or what we’re looking for; a good attorney is no different.  A friend of mine learned this the hard way by hiring a patent attorney who took $15,000 from her and never produced a patent.  Had she asked one of her best friends, she would have learned that her friend’s mother worked for the attorney for nine years and ended up leaving because she could no longer bear being a part of his lies and deceit while working the front desk.

-Take advantage of the World Wide Web.  It’s loaded with information on attorneys and their firm, as well as feedback from happy (and unhappy) clients.  It’s also a great way to discover their participation (or lack of) in credible associations, positions held with their local bar (especially the state chapter of NAELA, the National Association of Elder Law Attorneys), and any volunteer work they might do within the community.

I hope this information will help you find the elder law attorney that’s right for your family.  If you believe you could benefit from the expertise of a qualified elder law attorney right now, feel free to call my office for a free consultation. If Parrish Law is not right for you, we can help you find someone who is.  It all starts by dialing (408) 741-3500.  I look forward to hearing from you soon!


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