Vail Daily column: Who needs another attorney? | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Who needs another attorney?

Judson Haims
My View

I thought about starting this article off with an attorney joke. However, upon thinking about the severity of this issue, a joke would be quite inappropriate.

Worldwide, the percentage of people who are 65 years of age and older is increasing at significant rates never seen before. With an increasing aging population, it is important that we anticipate and understand some of the associated issues.

Understanding how housing, health, financial and legal matters will affect our aging family members and loved ones raise some formidable and essentially new challenges. With an aging population, the number of elderly people being subjected to criminal offenses, financial/physical/emotional abuse, fraud and exploitation is of great concern.

In effort to provide protection and oversight, an emerging field of law has developed — elder law. So, what exactly do elder law attorneys specialize in?

Elder law attorneys focus a numerous areas:

• Social Security, Medicare claims and disability claims.

• Tax planning.

• Preservation and transfer of assets.

• Disability planning.

• Durable powers of attorney, living trusts, living wills (for financial management and health decisions) and other directives.

• Elder abuse or neglect.

• Conservatorships and guardianships.

• Long-term care placement assistance.

• Age discrimination issues.

As with many business people (which includes attorneys), the explosion in the aging of America can be a financial windfall for their businesses. Insurance agents, bankers and financial planners all are prospering with the increase in the elder population. This is not necessarily a negative issue, but it does call for a certain amount of scrutiny when seeking out an elder law attorney to help with a particular issue.

There are a few things to consider when choosing an elder law attorney:

• What percentage of the attorney’s practice is devoted to elder law issues?

• How long has the attorney been practicing law (specifically, elder law)?

• What are the fees (hourly, flat rate or contingency)?

• Where did you hear about the lawyer?

• If you heard of this attorney from the Yellow Pages (or some similar source), did you also check out the attorney with the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and with your local Bar Association?

• Is the attorney certified in your state as an elder law specialist?

• Don’t forget to obtain references on the attorney.

• Obtain and review the attorney’s retainer agreement.

• Have an initial meeting where you can ask questions and observe how his/her office works (i.e., attitude of staff, who actually handles you, etc.).

Dealing with an elder loved one can be a very personalized task. The elder law attorney you select should understand and demonstrate that he or she is aware of the emotions behind why you are seeking their help. Elder care legal issues are very private and should be handled as such.

If it is not clearly evident in your first few communications with a prospective attorney that they exhibit a sense empathy to the physical and psychological problems that often accompany the aging process, then you may want to search further.

In general, law is complicated. Thus, there are an overwhelming amount of specialties.

The elder law attorney you will want to hire will be the one who regularly handles matters in the specific area of law of concern to your particular case.

So when an attorney says states that they practices elder law, find out what specific area(s) of the law they specialize in. Just because they may practice estate planning, trusts, wills, and probate, does not mean they are highly skilled in administration of estates, or any number of the other specialties specific to elder law.

As I see many families struggle with complex financial and social decisions concerning their aging loved ones, I feel comfortable giving this advice: Don’t underestimate the value of a skilled and specialized elder law attorney. One size does not fit all.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. For more information, go to http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or call 970-328-5526.