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Finding Your Elder-Law Attorney

It is of the utmost importance to find a qualified attorney to help you plan for the future, particularly when a debilitating illness such as Alzheimer’s enters the picture. But what do you look for, and how do you go about looking?

You can start by checking with either of two associations for elder-law attorneys. The National Elder Law Foundation (NELF) is an American Bar Association-certified organization that certifies the elder-law specialty among practitioners, who are known officially by the designation “CELA” (for “certified elder-law attorney”).

According to NELF, a CELA must be knowledgeable in the following subjects:


Finding the right elder-law attorney is very important to planning for your future.

You can find a complete directory of CELAs in the United States at the foundation’s website (, or look for a CELA in your area using their search engine.

The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) “is a professional association of over 4,300 attorneys who are dedicated to improving the quality of legal services provided to seniors and people with special needs,” according to the organization’s website. It also has a searchable directory of elder-law attorneys throughout the United States, including CELAs, at its website (

When do you contact an attorney? The sooner, the better. There may be more options available to you and your loved one at the early stages of Alzheimer’s than later on.

Asking the Right Questions
NAELA and NELF recommend meeting with the attorney of your choice armed with lots of questions. Before you agree to meet with an attorney, NAELA suggests that you ask some basic questions:

Once you’ve found an elder-law attorney, it’s time for the initial consultation. Here you’ll explain your specifics in some detail to give the attorney the scope of your situation. Before you meet with the attorney, answer as many of the following questions as you can:

You may need an attorney’s help answering some of these questions. But whether you can answer them yourself or need help, these questions need to be answered soon.

Also, be sure you understand how your attorney’s fee structure works. Ask how the firm bills and how often. Some attorneys ask for a retainer before beginning work, which is money paid in advance to the law firm in order to begin work.

Why a CELA?
Seeking an attorney certified in elder law (a CELA) brings with it certain assurances, according to NELF. A CELA has met rigorous criteria for certification, including:

In addition to these criteria for certification, there are expectations for a CELA’s practice that NELF specifies. Among these:

Hiring an elder-law attorney is worth taking the time to do it right. These guidelines should help you do just that, which is all the more important if you’re dealing with other pressing issues besides legal matters.

Bernard A. Krooks, J.D., CPA, LL.M (in taxation), CELA is past president and founding member of the N.Y. chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and a nationally known and widely quoted expert on elder law. For more information, visit the firm’s website at

Finding Your Attorney Without the Internet
If you don’t have a computer or Internet access, here are some recommendations for finding a qualified attorney to help you:

Source: Author: Sam Gaines, Edited by: Bernard A. Krooks, J.D., CPA, LLM, Preserving Your Memory: The Magazine of Health and Hope; Spring 2011.

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