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What would you say are the most important questions to ask an attorney in order to determine whether or not he/she is fully qualified/knowledgeable in elder law? I guess along with that, we would need to know the right answers to the questions! I have acquired some very helpful information here already, but I'm looking for a little guidance for the actual conversations. We're about to talk with two different attorneys so we can move forward with financial planning for our parents. Since their cash assets are low, we are seeking to qualify them for Medicaid or other financial assistance with home care initially and possible a memory care facility later (mother).

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I devote about 5 pages to how to find a good elder law attorney in my book, "How to Protect Your Family's Assets from Devastating Nursing Home Costs: Medicaid Secrets" (12 ed., Phylius Press, www.MedicaidSecrets.com). That said, the suggestions already made here, below, are excellent: NAELA, CELA, percent of practice devoted to elder law, etc. To that list I'd add: find out who teaches elder law and/or Medicaid planning (depending on your needs) at the local and state bar associations; the associations have already done the searching for you, in locating regional experts!
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Considering you have property issues, I’d look for a NAELA or CELA level of elder law atty as they will likely have an equally solid network of real estate atty that consult with.

They do not have to be in your parents city either. Just licensed for MN.
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Don’t use a small law firm that was recommended by an assisted living facility like my family did. Instead go to a larger firm that other trusted friends can recommend from positive experiences. We ended up using a Certified Elder Care attorney in New Jersey who the assisted living facility suggested and who gave us terrible advice.  We later found out that the very same assisted living facility had also set up my mother (diagnosed with dementia) with a local unethical attorney to fight the guardianship. It went to trial and we lost. My mother essentially was isolated from her family and friends and brain-washed against her caregivers.  She lost almost all her savings to the lawyers and coincidentally to the corrupt assisted living. These are terrible people who prey on feeble old people. The lawyers were reported to the law Ethics board and N.J. Attorney General’s office and basically got away with it. My mother died all alone with one of the lawyers (who she barely knew) eventually becoming her guardian, falling out of her bed without rails. Don’t let a terrible single-practice attorney, who preys on old people - take advantage, when there are large firms (who may charge more) that know what they’re doing and can help serve all your needs without ruining people’s lives.
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LyndaJ, for myself I liked having a law firm which has a half dozen Elder Law Attorneys among its partners, and other specialized Attorneys in-house should I need their service. That way, should one Attorney be on leave, retired, or left the firm, there would be other Elder Law Attorneys I could choose from.

I found such a firm and their website had extensive resumes for each of the Attorneys in the firm. That is how I found the Attorney I am using, and that my late parents had used.
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I continue to be so grateful for this site & all of your valuable feedback!

Following your advice, it's reassuring to find law firms that appear both on this site and in the NAELA search. Thank you so much for your helpful direction!
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In Michigan, in 2011, I was advised to find a VA-Certified, Medicaid-planning attorney to help my father apply for VA Aid & Attendance and possible future Medicaid application. He delivered well, at a then-reasonable retainer of $1500. Recently I've had to seek out, what I had hoped, would be NAELA or CELA attorneys for our own estate plan. I do find some local names via the NAELA and CELA website. Yet, the largest local elder law firm near me (elder law is 100% of practice) is not certified by NAELA or CELA. I phoned the Michigan State Bar, and the Michigan Legal Hotline for Seniors to ask about this certification. At the moment I don't have my notes, but in essence they told me that elder law certification in Michigan was a fairly new specialty, and that such certification may or may not ensure "the best" legal service. They explained that the percentage of the practice's cases spent on elder law, as well as depth of experience and reputation, also are valid considerations. So I'm a bit bungfoozzled given the cost and desire to do it right the first time.

I have found that preparing a background sheet listing assets, income, expenses, and important facts helps save a bit of initial time. Preparing an agenda with your highest priority questions also helps. But I find that no matter how well prepared I think I am, during any legal appointment I learn so much about what I didn't know that I wish I had prepared myself even better and didn't squander the time on questions that I could have learned about through some private reading time.

I have also found that paying "lump sum" for initial legal documents ("VA" and "Medicaid" focus) really saved in the long run. My father's original attorney has freely given me advice ever since, though I am very careful not to abuse that favor.

I have an attorney friend who grimaced at my inquiry about NAELA and CELA, saying that continuing education in elder law, and devotion to elder law in one's practice, speaks for itself and paying organizations fees yearly is a form of advertising. But honestly, I'd never have complex surgery without a surgeon being an appropiate "fellow" of his professional oversight body. Why should lawyers be different?

I'm very interested in this topic as I can learn a lot from LyndaJ's question!
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50's Child, PM me if you will with an approximate location of where you are in Michigan. I'm familiar with and worked for many of the top law firms in the Detroit area, many of which also have suburban offices. They're multipractice law firms, with practice areas that are both complementary and separate from elder law issues.

As FF states, it's a good idea to get a multi-attorney (and multi-practice) law firm so that coverage is available is one attorney is not.

You can also ask about the number of paralegals for each practice area, what their training is, and what their responsibilities are. I've worked for firms that allowed participation in everything including an indirect form of negotiating, but others that required each paralegal to have even a letter approved by an attorney.

I'll eat some chocolate to spur my brain into action and think of some questions to ask when you interview attorneys.
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Lyndal: An good elder law attorney will ask YOU the questions. How do I know this? Answer=because my brother is an excellent elder law estate attorney practicing and residing in California. Their business product will be listed on their website.
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I would not be consulting with two different attorneys (i.e. paying for their time) unless these are freebie sessions.
Make sure you understand that the attorney will be representing your family member...NOT YOU. You may want to choose someone else to advise you on how to handle things for your own well-being.
Just because someone comes well recommended doesn't meant they are great. DO be sure to find someone experienced in the issues like medicaid etc.
Above all I think it is best to have someone who is very upfront about fees and what is included. We used a dreadful woman who had then charged for the most minute questions and billed at her hourly rate to "read, review, and respond" to my email questions. It also took multiple days for the answer to a simple question of it we would be charged for coming in to sign the routine paperwork she charged for. And to top it off, she set things in writing that were very wrong...and discovered quickly by the new attorney we went to when I didn't feel all of the issues of concern were addressed. We had to pay to have the work re-done because of one sentence or so; the new attorney clearly wasn't going to go after a peer.
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Extremely helpful feedback...so much appreciated! Our initial consults begin tomorrow, so it's an incredible blessing that all of you weighed in when you did.

This journey is a bit intimidating and challenging, especially since I am in Alabama and the rest of the family is in Minnesota. My sister and I are having to conduct conference calls with potential attorneys. I would much rather have the benefit of getting an impression with a face-to-face meeting, but this is the hand we've been dealt.

I'm adding all of these considerations to my notes and can't thank you all enough for taking time to post your input.

(Mr. Heiser, I have read many of your articles/posts both on this site and on your website, and have found all of the information to be extremely helpful. As a start, we are definitely using your sample caregiver agreement to come up with a contract for my sister. Since we are behind in this process given the rapid change in circumstances, I'm grateful for the positive way you offer guidance. I will undoubtedly be adding your book to my reading list!)
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