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In times of need: helping clients find elder law counsel.

As our elder population increases, many CPAs are faced with financial and legal questions concerning their aging clients and families. Sometimes these issues span into areas beyond the CPA's expertise and as your client's most trusted adviser, they will turn to you for reliable referrals to qualified professionals.

Should the referral be to an attorney who specializes in elder law or estate planing? Elder law transcends the typical estate, financial and probate planning issues handled by estate planning attorneys. Besides estate planning, elder lawyers usually specialize in nursing home care issues; conservatorships; Medi-Cal entitlements and estate recovery; long-term care and disability planning; asset preservation strategies; and elder abuse and fraud recovery.

NAELA describes elder lawyers as "attorneys who genuinely empathize with the true physical and mental difficulties that often accompany the aging process. Their understanding of the afflictions of the aged allows them to determine more easily the difference between the physical versus the mental disability of a client."

FIRST STEPS

Locating and interviewing potential elder law attorneys well in advance of when your clients will need their services makes good sense. Figure A provides resources where CPAs and their clients can find qualified legal help.

In addition, the NELF, ABA and NAELA websites have "find an elder lawyer" features, and California recognizes the ABA's certification for Certified Elder Law Attorneys. Finding attorneys who hold these memberships is encouraged because members have shown competency and proficiency in elder law matters. The Martindale-Hubbell attorney directory, www.martindale.com, contains a peer review ratings feature on some attorneys.

CONSIDERATIONS

When evaluating attorneys and law firms, CPAs and their clients should consider the skill, experience, availability, size and costs of the law firm. Finding one attorney or firm with experience covering all of the client's elder law needs may not be a simple task.

A strong indicator of experience is the attorney's affiliation with the associations mentioned in Figure A. But the inquiry should not stop there as attorneys often have specific areas of practice in elder law.

Consider the client's personality and history when recommending any lawyer. Would your client be more comfortable working with a smaller law firm or larger one? Generally speaking, smaller practices may offer personal service and lower rates, but larger firms may offer access to more attorneys, specialists and other experts. Despite the additional overhead and operating costs of a large firm, an attorney with higher rates may work more efficiently, resulting in an overall lower fee.

Some of the important factors for a successful attorney-client relationship include your client's comfort level with the attorney, the attorney's availability and their ability to handle the case. Clients will be most comfortable with the lawyer who is a good listener and has genuine concern for the client and their case.

ASK QUESTIONS

Once prospective law firms have been identified, questioning them can provide insight into their qualifications and help determine whether the client can work comfortably with the attorney.

Your client's initial contact with a law firm may be with a paralegal, assistant or secretary. This provides a good opportunity to ask some simple questions that may help your client affirm or eliminate the prospective lawyer from the search.

Figure B (see Page 26) suggests questions CPAs or their clients should ask when approaching a law firm.

Throughout this process, remember that the interview is mutual. The attorney also is evaluating whether or not the client's persona and case is a good fit with the firm.

A GOOD CLIENT RELATIONSHIP

Once the client retains an attorney, open communication is key to resolving issues that arise during the case. Clients should remain positive, articulate their objectives and the approach they want the lawyer to take, as well as explain their expectations of being informed of case developments.

It may be difficult for clients to follow this advice during life-changing events involving their family, but a good elder lawyer is aware of these issues and will try to lead the client whenever possible.

If the time is taken to make sure the relationship gets off to a good start, it will make the experience a productive one for both the client and the attorney.

RELATED ARTICLE: FIGURE A

Elder Lawyer Referrals

Attorneys, CPAs, Clergy

Elder Lawyers Associations

National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA.Org) * National Elder Law Foundation (NELF.Org) * American Bar Association's Certified Elder Law Attorney (ABANet.Org)

State or Local Bar Associations

Area Agency or Council on Aging

Professional Associations

AARP * Alzheimer's Assoc * Nat'l Coalition of Nursing Home Reform

Martindale-Hubbell Directory

www.martindale.com

Online

www.elderlawanswers.com

www.lawyers.com

RELATED ARTICLE: FIGURE B

Questions, Case Issues & Case Management, Costs

Initial Contact Questions

--What is the emphasis of the attorney's practice?

--How long has the attorney been in practice and how long in this state?

--How long has the attorney been practicing elder law?

--What information should be brought to the consultation?

Attorney Interview Questions

Background Information

--What level of elder law experience does the attorney have and is it in the applicable areas?

--What percentage of the practice is dedicated to elder law?

--Has the attorney handled similar cases?

--What is the attorney's disciplinary history?

--Would the attorney mind if the client checked their good standing with the bar?

--Has the attorney ever been involved in a malpractice case?

--Does the attorney have malpractice insurance?

--What professional memberships and designations does the attorney have?

Case Issues

--What are the possible outcomes for my case or issue?

--What are the chances for each possible outcome?

--Are there any risks to the client if they do not prevail?

--Are there alternatives for resolving the matter and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

--Can the attorney give an honest evaluation of the pros and cons of the case?

--How long will it take to resolve the case or issues?

--What are the applicable laws affecting the client's case?

--Can there be negotiations to reach a settlement prior to trial?

--Are there mediation or arbitration options available?

--If applicable, is the attorney familiar with the opposing attorney and their experience?

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Case Management

--What attorneys and staff will handle or work on the case?

--What skill level and experience do other attorneys working on the case have?

--Who handles any trial work?

--How will the attorney keep the client informed of the case's progress?

--Will the client receive copies of all letters and documents prepared on behalf of the client?

Costs

--Will the attorney's fee be charged at a flat fee, contingency or hourly rate?

--What are the hourly rates for the firm?

--Is there a retainer required?

--How are expenses and costs advanced billed?

--What amounts would be due if the attorney was terminated prior to the completion of the case?

--How frequently will the client receive an invoice?

--Can the attorney reasonably estimate the total fee and costs in writing?

--Will any junior attorneys in training be involved in the case and who is paying that cost?

--Can juniors, paralegals or staff handle some of the administrative work of the case at a lower hourly rate?

BY MICHAEL BADER, ESQ., CPA

Michael Bader, Esq., CPA is the principal of Tustin-based My SeniorCare Advisors. He is a member of CalCPA's Eldercare Task Force, Personal Financial Planning and Financial Literacy committees, and is chair of the Orange County/Long Beach Chapter Eldercare Interest Group. He also serves on the board of directors for the Council on Aging. You can reach him at Answers@MySeniorCareAdvisor.com.
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Title Annotation:ELDER CARE
Author:Bader, Michael
Publication:California CPA
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Nov 1, 2005
Words:1248
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