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Ohio Department of Aging Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

My Future - April 2010

Elder Law: When Should You Call a Specialist?
As We Age, Our Legal Needs Change

If you need your kitchen faucet replaced, would you call a general contractor or a plumber? When the transmission goes out on your car, do you take it to a transmission shop or a general service station? When you are having trouble with your knee, do you trust your general practitioner or do you seek the consult of an orthopedist? There are many situations in which it makes sense to go to a specialist over a generalist. So, when you or an older loved one needs legal advice, do you go to just any attorney or do you seek out one that specializes in elder law?

Ohio's and the nation's older population is growing, and so is the number of legal problems that affect older people.Ohio's and the nation's older population is growing, and so is the number of legal problems that affect older people. Laws and regulations are becoming increasingly complex to deal with the changing needs of our citizens. An action to one matter may have lasting and unintended legal effects. Elder law attorneys have specialized knowledge and experience in matters such as health and long-term care planning, public benefits, surrogate decision-making, insurance, housing, retirement, employment and abuse.

According to the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), lawyers who primarily work with the elderly bring more to their practices than just an expertise in the appropriate areas of the law. They also bring a knowledge of the older clients and their needs that allows them and their staff to ignore myths and misconceptions and be more attuned to real life problems that tend to crop up as we age. Elder law attorneys also typically are connected to a formal or informal system of social workers, psychologist and health care professionals uniquely positioned to serve elders.

The first step in selecting an elder law attorney, says the NAELA, is to make sure that you have a legal problem in which a lawyer needs to be involved and not just a medical or social services issue. Talk to your clergy, social worker, family members and trusted friends to determine if you should seek legal assistance.

In most cases, you can get referrals to elder law attorneys from your area agency on aging or local council on aging, social security office, state civil liberties union, state or local bar association or advocacy groups specific to your situation. In Ohio, residents age 60 and older have access to free legal information, advice and referral through the ProSeniors Legal Hotline. Typical questions to the hotline concern Medicare, Medicaid and estate recovery, advanced directives and consumer issues. If you have a legal problem that cannot be appropriately addressed over the phone, a hotline worker will try to refer you to an appropriate source for more in-depth assistance. Call the legal hotline toll-free at 1-800-488-6070, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

When you talk with a legal professional about your problem, be sure to ask these basic questions:

  • What will it take to resolve my issue? Are there any alternative courses of action I can consider? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each approach?
  • How many attorneys are in the office and who will handle my case? Has that individual handled matters like mine in the past. What percentage of the attorney's practice is devoted to elder law? Can the attorney handle my case if it goes to trial?
  • Given the nature of my issue, what information should I bring with me to a consultation?
  • How are fees computed and how much should I expect to pay to resolve my problem? How long will it take?

Strive to maintain a positive and open relationship with your attorney. Take the time to pick one who has the experience to solve your problem, then ask questions, set expectations and hold him or her accountable.