What is Elder Law? Why Should I Hire a Board Certified Elder Law Attorney?
At some point in your life, you or a loved one will face the need to hire an elder law attorney. What exactly is Elder Law?
According to the Florida Bar, Elder Law is defined as any legal issue(s) involving health and personal care planning for the senior population and their caregivers (familial or professional). The practice encompasses all aspects of planning for aging, illness, and incapacity, including: advance directives; lifetime planning; family issues; fiduciary representation; capacity issues (Alzheimer’s and Dementia, Parkinson’s); guardianship and guardianship advocates (for minors, adults, and people with developmental disabilities); power of attorney; financial planning; public benefits (Medicaid and Veteran’s Benefits) and insurance (Medicare); resident rights in long-term care facilities; housing opportunities and financing; employment and retirement matters; income, estate, and gift tax matters; estate planning (wills and trusts); probate; nursing home claims; elder abuse; age or disability discrimination and grandparents’ rights. Another unique component of elder law is disability planning. This includes the planning of monetary gifting to a disabled loved one (particularly those diagnosed with developmental disabilities such as autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsy, etc.) while still protecting public benefits such as Medicaid and SSI, through the creation of a special needs trust.
Elder law clients are predominantly seniors and their caregivers (familial or professional) or the family of individuals diagnosed with developmental disabilities; the specialization requires a practitioner to be especially sensitive to the legal issues impacting these clients.
How do I find the best elder law attorney for my needs?
So when you find yourself in need of an elder law attorney, how do you find one who is well versed in these particular issues? The internet is a common place most people start their search, paying attention to client ratings and reviews or any special accolades or memberships such as AV Rated or Super Lawyers. But with over 100,000 practicing attorneys in the state of Florida, and hundreds of elder law attorneys in your geographical area, the search can quickly become overwhelming and time consuming. No one wants to make phone call after phone call, sit through meeting after meeting, only to discover the attorney is not equipped to handle their case/issue.
Fortunately, with board certification, the Florida Bar has already done much of the legwork for you by recognizing attorneys who excel in their practice area with board certification.
What is board certification?
A board certified attorney is an expert who specializes in a particular field of law, such as elder law. The Florida Bar sets the standard for certification.
To practice law in Florida one must attend an accredited law school and pass the bar exam; but to earn board certification from the Florida Bar Association, an attorney must meet a rigorous set of standards and criteria in their specialization/practice area. Only 7% of eligible Florida Bar members have earned board certification in one or more of the 27 specialty areas of law. (In fact, it is the highest level of distinction an attorney can achieve in the field.) Presently there are only about 100 board certified elder law attorneys in the state of Florida- with only around 30 located in South Florida.
When you hire a board certified elder law attorney, you are represented by an attorney who has:
- Practiced law for at least five years
- Been substantially involved in the specialty of elder law 40% or more during the three years immediately preceding application
- Been evaluated for competency and professionalism by peers in the legal field
- Completed 60 hours of continuing legal education within education within the three years immediately preceding application
- Passed a full day written examination demonstrating knowledge, skills, and proficiency in the field of elder law to justify the representation of special competence in this area profession and public
So why hire a board certified attorney over an attorney with denominations such as Super Lawyer or AV Rated?
- Board certified elder law attorneys have met The Florida Bar’s highest standards in the practice of elder law. Others denominations such as Super Lawyers or AV Rated attorneys are scrutinized by marketing companies, not the Florida Bar.
- Board certified elder law attorneys have been rigorously evaluated for experience and competence. Super Lawyers and similar accolades have no such evaluation.
- Board certification is the highest level of evaluation of competency and experience set by the Florida Bar for attorneys practicing in the areas approved for certification.
In sum, board certification is an objective indicator that the elder law attorney you are hiring is an experienced, knowledgeable, and trustworthy attorney who will handle your case with the utmost precision and care.