Ten steps to selecting an elder-care attorney | NevadaAppeal.com

Ten steps to selecting an elder-care attorney

William Creekbaum
Special to the Appeal

The plethora of services available to older adults is reassuring, but the negotiation of those systems can be daunting without expert advice.

An elder-care attorney can be an essential member of the advisory team you coordinate to help protect your assets. But elder-care law is a specialty that requires an attorney be versed in the law, as well as practiced in anticipating future needs.

Elder-care attorneys might provide advice in a range of areas, including: disability issues, health-care proxies, living wills, powers of attorney for health care and finances, plans in the event of incapacity, long-term care insurance, Social Security claims, guardianship issues, general life insurance, trusts and wills.

Establishing a relationship with an elder-care attorney before you are forced to confront the health issues of aging is proactive and can help you identify a compassionate and experienced professional whom you can trust to guide you legally.

This will help ensure that you are not taken advantage of in an effort to meet your needs.

Here are 10 steps I suggest to go about finding such a specialist.

• Identify prospective attorneys. Talk to your friends or advisors who work with elder-care attorneys and ask them about their experiences. Other referral resources include the AARP, the Nevada State Bar Association and the National Academy of Elder Law attorneys.

• Schedule screening interviews. It’s important to find an elder-care attorney you feel comfortable working with when considering their personal styles and ways of conducting business. Do they call you back promptly? How do they sound on the phone – is it strictly business, or do they express some personal care? Which do you prefer? Meeting the attorney in his or her office can also lend insight.

• Determine if the attorney is qualified in elder-care issues. Qualifications and experience are important since elder care issues are complicated. During your initial conversation with the attorney, you should feel comfortable enough to ask the following questions, and receive answers:

How long have you been practicing?

What percentage of your practice is devoted to elder-care law?

What types of problems have you handled in this area?

How much of the work done on behalf of elder-care issues is handled by staff? What are their qualifications?

What specific services might you provide?

Do you have references from clients for whom you provide elder-care services, with whom I can speak?

• Understand the network of professionals. Elder care requires a holistic approach that involves a team of specialists; your attorney should not be the lone ranger. The team might include medical personnel, geriatric-care managers, financial advisors and experts in social work, psychology and home-care support.

• Discuss elder-care attorney fees. You want someone who is reasonably priced and has a fee schedule that is comfortable for you. Remember that the most or least expensive attorney may not necessarily be a reflection of the quality of work you’ll receive.

• Contact the references. Ask people what kind of services they received from the attorney and how they felt about the experience. Was the attorney proactive? Were problems anticipated and planned for? Was the attorney responsive? Is he or she a good advocate? And finally, ask if the person has any regrets or concerns about working with the attorney.

• Prepare for the second interview. Prepare any follow-up questions from your contact with the references and/or your specific needs. You’ll also want to bring any current personal documents you wish to discuss, including estate planning instruments and insurance policies. Note that some attorneys may bill you for these interviews.

• Drill down on specifics. Use the second interview to discuss ways of managing your affairs to help you meet your future needs. Ask each attorney how he or she proposes to address a particular situation you may be wondering about. Each attorney may have a different strategy, and finding a person with a plan that makes sense to you will foster a good working relationship.

• Select your elder care attorney. In making the final determination, you should select someone who is qualified, whom you are comfortable with, who has the type of personality most appropriate for your situation, has a network of people they work with and is reasonably priced.

• Put it in writing. This helps to ensure that there are no surprises early on; you know what you’re paying for and what you’re getting. Having a written agreement (sometimes called a retainer agreement) can help ensure that your expectations are met.

None of us knows what our future holds, but we can be prepared. By working with an elder-care attorney, you are expanding the team of advisors you work with to help secure a lifestyle you desire when seeking to meet your future needs and protect your legacy. For information on selecting an elder-care attorney, please e-mail me at William.a.creekbaum@smithbarney.com or call 689-8704.

• William Creekbaum, MBA, CFP, a Washoe Valley resident, is senior investment management consultant of SmithBarney, a financial services firm serving Northern Nevada at 6005 Plumas Street, Ste. 200 Reno, NV 89509.