How do I pick an attorney and what should I expect to pay?

2 answers | Last updated: Feb 01, 2012
A fellow caregiver asked...

How do I hire an eldercare attorney to work with my parents on filing various legal documents related to their care and estate? Where should I look for an attorney? Should I look for a big downtown firm, or use someone in a small shop?

Expert Answers

Philip Feldman is a partner in charge of the trusts and estates practice at Coblentz Patch Duffy & Bass in San Francisco.

If you don't need counsel on an emergency basis, get referrals through friends who've been down a similar path. If you intend to have this person draw up your parents' will, offer estate planning and tax advice, and so on, an interview is a must. You should be comfortable with this person and her expertise. Involving your parents in this decision is key; look for an attorney who works near them and whom they can feel good about.

If you need counsel more quickly, call your local county bar association and ask for an elder law or estate planning attorney. You can check out an attorney's credentials on Martindale Hubbell, an official guide to attorneys and their specialties. Some entries include a rating by the attorney's peers. You're likely to go with one of the first attorneys who sounds like she knows what she's doing, and that's OK, as long as her credentials check out and you feel comfortable with her. Remember that many of these attorneys will be in small firms or will have their own office (these attorneys are called sole practitioners). Often their rates will be lower, and they'll have more experience in this area than a generalist in a large downtown law firm. Expect to pay between $200 and $400 an hour.

If your parents have substantial assets and want a more senior lawyer, the fee can reach $500 an hour, and it's worth shopping around to make sure you hire the right attorney for your family. But most attorneys want to make this as cost-efficient for clients as possible and will have paralegals do as much of the work as is appropriate. This is definitely not an area for a generalist, and specialized tax and estate planning, experience is critical. In fact, if you get the feeling that an attorney is figuring things out for the first time, that's not good, as you may not get the best advice and you'll be paying for her to learn. Worse, errors and missed opportunities in this arena can be extremely expensive for the family.

Expect to sign an engagement letter outlining what the attorney will do for you and in many cases pay a retainer of a few thousand dollars up front. That can be waived under certain circumstances. If it's an issue, simply ask. It's advisable to ask how much the attorney thinks her work will cost you. If she has experience, she should be able to estimate your bill accurately.

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

I am thinking of getting married again. I have Long Term Health coverage but my husband to be depends on his being a World War Two Veteran. We are both in our eighties. When we marry my investments may make him ineligible to be under the VA care. He does have Prostate Cancer and is doctoring with the VA. How can he stay under the VA care which has been very helpful to him?