Finding an Attorney

When a family member has a cognitive impairment and cannot manage his/her affairs, legal and/or financial planning is often needed. Areas of concern to family caregivers include future health care decisions, management of assets, public benefits planning and, in some cases, litigation.

When seeking legal advice, finding a knowledgeable, competent attorney is extremely important.

Locating an Attorney

One of the surest ways to find an attorney is through a personal recommendation. This may be a recommendation from a friend, relative or co-worker, or from another attorney whom you know and trust. A good way to get a personal recommendation is to attend a support group of persons in a similar situation. Someone there may already have had experience with a knowledgeable attorney and be able to share his or her experience. Referrals, as well as advice, for individuals aged 60 or over may also be obtained from senior legal services provided by local Area Agencies on Aging funded by the Older Americans Act. Independent community legal aid agencies may also offer assistance to persons of all ages.

Another way of locating an attorney is through an attorney referral service. The local bar association in your community may have a panel which refers callers to lawyers in various specializations. After describing your needs, you will be referred to the most appropriate specialist. Initial consultations generally include a nominal fee.

Caution should be exercised if such a referral service is used. Panel-referred attorneys need meet only minimum requirements and may have little experience. It is important to check the qualifications of an attorney and to make calls to compare fees and experience. Keep in mind that laws vary from state to state.

Types of Attorneys

Most attorneys concentrate on one or two areas of law. It is especially important for the family caregiver to find an attorney who has the appropriate expertise. Attorneys advising caregivers on planning for long-term care should have knowledge of the following areas of law:

Medicaid laws and regulations Social Security Trusts (special needs trusts) Conservatorships Durable power of attorney for health care and asset management Tax (income, estate and gift) planning Housing and health care contracts

Some attorneys are certified specialists. For example, an attorney can be a certified specialist in taxation, estate planning, probate or elder law. In the case of an accident, a personal injury attorney is needed. It is advisable to select someone who has had jury trial experience.

Attorneys often do not know about all of the above-mentioned areas. In the case of a personal injury, two attorneys may be needed--one to litigate an accident settlement and another to help plan for long-term financial or health care needs.

Preparing for a Legal Consultation

Before contacting an attorney, a family caregiver may find it useful to familiarize him or herself to some extent with areas of the law which are of interest. It is also helpful to have a clear idea of what one would like as an outcome of a legal consultation. Learning as much as possible ahead of time will better prepare the prospective client for a productive consultation.

More specifically, individuals who are interested in the durable power of attorney for health care may wish to think about what type of life-sustaining procedures they would want used in the case of a serious illness. In addition, it may be helpful to identify a first, second and third choice of a family member or a trusted friend to make personal health care and financial decisions in the event you are unable to do this for yourself.

Items to Bring to the Consultation

1. List of major assets (real estate, stocks, cash, jewelry, insurance, etc.).

2. Any documents of title (e.g., copies of deeds, stock certificates, loan papers, etc.) which show who the owners are and how title is held.

3. Contracts or other legally binding documents.

4. Lists of all major debts.

5. Existing wills or durable powers of attorney.

6. Bank statements, passbooks, CDs--again showing who the owners are and how title is held.


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