What Is a Certified Elder Law Attorney?
The legal profession, like the medical profession, contains a variety of practice areas and a wide range of professionals who specialize in those areas. So, while there are doctors who specialize in cardiology or geriatrics, for example, there are also lawyers who specialize in legal areas such as elder law, a field that addresses legal issues specific to seniors. These legal professionals may also be considered certified elder law attorneys, meaning that they have obtained an approved certification as an expert in that field.
A certified specialist in elder law is an attorney who has received specific training in elder law issues, has practiced in that field for a certain amount of time, and has been certified as highly qualified in elder law by their State Bar or by another accrediting organization. The title of “certified specialist,” is an important qualification, and an attorney who represents himself or herself as a "certified specialist," yet has not in fact been appropriately certified, can be liable for false and misleading advertising. The American Bar Association publishes model ethical rules for attorneys advertising their specialties as well as the related rules in the various states.
Requirements for Certification as an Elder Law Attorney
Although the specific requirements for certification as a specialist in elder law may vary from state to state, many states recognize the elder law certification issued by the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF). That organization sets forth the following requirements in order to qualify as a certified elder law attorney:
- The attorney must be licensed to practice law in at least one state or the District of Columbia.
- The attorney must have practiced law for at least five years before applying for certification and must be practicing law at the time of their application.
- The attorney must be a member in good standing in the bar where they are licensed.
- The attorney must have spent an average of at least sixteen hours per week practicing elder law in the three years preceding the application and have handled at least sixty elder law matters during those three years.
- The attorney must have participated in at least forty-five hours of continuing legal education in elder law in the three years prior to their application.
- The attorney must submit the names of five attorney references who are familiar with his or her competence and qualifications.
- The attorney must pass a full day certification examination.
Once an attorney has been certified as a specialist in elder law, they are required to continue their elder law practice and to continue their participation in continuing legal education specific to the field. This is to ensure that certified elder law attorneys maintain a current knowledge of relevant laws along with their practice skills in representing elderly clients or their families.
What Can a Certified Elder Law Attorney Do For You?
With their specialized training and practice in elder law, along with the additional resources available to them, certified elder law attorneys can be expected to understand the current state of elder law in their jurisdiction and to offer an expert level of representation to their clients. An elder law attorney will also understand the challenges facing elderly clients and is trained to specifically address their needs. Additionally, if you’re working with an attorney that is not a certified specialist in elder law, there is a greater chance that you may receive misinformation, given the many complexities involved in the field, which includes such areas as:
- Estate planning (powers of attorney, wills and trusts)
- Estate tax and gifting
- Special needs trusts
- Long term care planning
- Age discrimination
- Veterans' benefits
- Elder abuse
Where Can You Find a Certified Elder Law Attorney?
NELF’s website provides a list of specialists by state. However, it is not the only certifying entity and you can also locate a certified elder law attorney through the state bar for your state, some of which may even include this information on their websites. The State Bar of California, for example, provides a Legal Specialist Search, allowing you to find specialists by area of law. You can also locate a certified elder law attorney on FindLaw's attorney directory.
For additional information on elder law generally, see FindLaw's "Elder Law" and "Intro to Elder Law" articles.