Elder Law Attorneys – Who are They and Do You Need One?

Who Are They?  In its 2015 National Lawyer Population by State report, the American Bar Association indicated there were 25,337 attorneys in Missouri.  Before you think that indicates we have more than enough attorneys, please note the ABA also reported that 11,656 of those attorneys are “Idle Attorneys” or those who are licensed and on the rolls but who are not directly employed in the profession.  These “Idle” parties may be judges, legislators, or businesspeople whose employment choices led them away from the practice of law.  Still others are unemployed or chose careers where a law degree is not integral to their success.

When I tell people that part of my practice is elder law, they invariably ask me what that entails.  Of those 13,681 “Active Attorneys” practicing law in Missouri, some are recognized as elder law attorneys; those professionals who possess specialized knowledge of issues that affect seniors.  It is impossible to predict with any certainty how many attorneys in Missouri practice in the area of elder law because so many of us represent clients in multiple practice areas and are not willing to narrowly confine ourselves.  In addition to good word-of-mouth, websites like Lawyers.com, Findlaw.com, and NAELA.org are helpful resources for finding those attorneys who indicate a knowledge and practice of elder law.

Elder law is an incredibly diverse practice area.  For most attorneys like myself, it includes nearly any legal issue that arises for older adults and their families such as estate planning, probate, tax appeals, guardianships, real estate, nursing home neglect, credit counseling and consumer protection among others.  Because elder law involves so many topics, few attorneys can enjoy an expertise in them all.  The goal for most of us who assist clients with elder law issues is to know several topics very well and then combine our experience and knowledge with others who may have specific knowledge in others.  In addition, good elder law attorneys always have a network of professionals who provide other valuable services to seniors such as accountants, physicians, financial planners, and long-term care facility professionals.

The goal of an elder law attorney is not to prevail in a particular case or particular transaction; rather, it is about becoming a trusted advisor and helping the client address various important issues throughout their life.  During their 50’s and 60’s clients may find assistance through the preparation of an estate plan, power of attorney, trust, or last will and testament.  During their 60’s and 70’s those same clients may require the sale of their primary residences or other assets to fund their retirement accounts and fantasy vacations.  In their 70’s and 80’s, those same clients may require guardianships, conservatorships, nursing care protections, or emergency estate planning measures near the time of death.  In many cases, the elder law attorney has become so important to the client and his or her family that services are rendered to the surviving family members once the clients have passed away.

Because many elder law attorneys enjoy a longstanding relationship with their clients, the skill of relationship is equally as important as the skill of practicing law.  Balancing the client’s short-term goals with their long-term successes is vital.  Recognizing the client’s continuing desire to parent their children and otherwise help family members while responding appropriately to prevent waste and fraud is often required of elder law attorneys.  So is the attorney’s ability to protect the highly important and confidential information that clients share with us.

Do You Need One?  At the heart of the elder law practice is the attorney’s commitment to the proposition that no client will stand alone against the world or against diminishing cognitive abilities.  It is not just dementia and cognitive decline that makes senior clients more uncertain with age; complicated laws, technology changes, changes in family, economics, and health also explain why clients are more likely to make the wrong decisions affecting everything from their health to their finances.  Do you fear being alone one day without the ability to make decisions on your own behalf…then you would likely benefit from the services of an elder law attorney.  Do you have assets and the desire to protect them during retirement or to make certain that your loved ones receive them upon your death…then you would likely benefit from the services of an elder law attorney.

Todd Miller is the Senior Partner with the Law Office of Todd Miller, LLC in Jefferson City, Missouri www.toddmillerlaw.com (573) 634-2838.  Mr. Miller earned his juris doctorate degree from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1999.  Since 2013, he has been recognized as a Superb Attorney with a “10” rating by AVVO and annually receives the Client Distinction Award by Lawyers.com. He was recognized as Golf Tax Consultant of the Year by Boardroom Magazine three times and candidate for the “10 Best” attorneys for the State of Missouri by the American Institute of Family Law Attorneys and “10 Best” attorneys for the State of Missouri by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys.  He writes and lectures on various legal topics and you may also find him on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter and striving to pick winning NFL teams in the weekly News Tribune Pro Football Contest.