How to Find an Elder Law Attorney

naelaI am often contacted by friends and contacts to help with elder care issues for their parents who live in other states.  I wanted to share with you the resource that I use to find referals to elder law attorneys outside New Jersey.

The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys or NAELA is the premier national elder law organization.  I think it is fair to say that anyone who is serious about practicing in the area of elder law is a member of NAELA.  

One of the services that NAELA offers is a listing of all of its members, searchable by location or zip code.  The question then arises "Well, I have a list of all of these attorneys, how do I figure out who to speak to?".  Here are some of the questions/criteria that I use:


  • Is the person a CELA?  CELA  stands for Certified Elder Law Attorney.  The certification is only granted to those who pass additional testing and who focus a substantial part of their practice in elder law.  I think this is a key criteria because, as a CELA, I am aware of the high bar set for certification and recertification.  Also, I want to be speaking with attorneys who have invested in themselves to spend the time to earn the CELA certification and take the continuing education classes required to maintain it.

  • What does the attorney’s website look like? Do they provide useful information about elder law and how they practice?  Are there articles or a blog?  I like to refer people to attorneys who take the approach that their role is to educate clients about the law and provide alternative solutions.
  • Does the attorney hold an LL.M in tax or have a significant tax practice?  Many of the downsides of elder law planning involve the tax consequences. These need to be able to be thoroughly evaluated as the taxes are part of the potential cost of any plan of action.
  • Does the attorney's experience match what you need them to do? For example, if you have a guardianship question, does the attorney have extensive guardianship litigation experience? I'm a transactional attorney – which means I work mostly with documents. The primary counsel on any guardianship matters in our office is Stacey C. Maiden, Esq., who focuses a significant part of her practice on guardianships. Similarly, if there is a contested litigation, I may have one of our experienced litigators act as primary counsel on the matter. An attorney can't be all things to all people, so make sure the your needs match the attorney’s experience.
  • How will the attorney charge for their services? You are not going to find this answer on a website. Fees can and should change as a result of the uniqueness of the matter, the complexity, the timing, and the number of parties involved, among other things. Fees can be fixed, flat, or hourly, or some combination. You need to understand how the attorney is going to be compensated as a key part of moving forward in order to have a successful representation experience.
  • Call the short-list attorneys to find out how they would approach your problem. An attorney isn't going to be able to solve your problem over the phone, and it's unrealistic to expect them to do so. Elder law issues are by their nature complex, and a variety of factors need to be evaluated. However, in a 10 min. conversation you can find out how the attorney approaches situations that are similar to yours. That should give you enough information to determine if you want to have a more detailed consultation with the attorney.


Saying that a transfer/gift wasn't intended for Medicaid won't cut it

Thumbs DownIt's not really a surprise, but a recent decision confirmed that trying to prove to New Jersey that a transfer was made within the Medicaid 5 year look back period for reasons "other than qualifying for Medicaid" is an uphill battle with a low probability of success.

Fellow New Jersey elder law attorney John Callinan represented A.M., who transferred $22,103 in September 2006.  A.M. had a sudden onset illness, and applied for Medicaid August 2009.  She was found eligible for Medicaid,but a transfer penalty was imposed due to the the gift. provides details on A.M.'s appeal:

A.M. appealed, claiming that she transferred the money exclusively for reasons other than to qualify for Medicaid. She explained that she gave money equally to all of her children over the years, but she had set aside money for her son because he was addicted to cocaine and going through a divorce, and she transferred the money to him only after he had been rehabilitated. A hearing officer reversed the county's decision, determining A.M. had met her burden of proof. However, the director of the Division of Medical Assistance and Health Services reversed the hearing officer, holding that A.M. had not produced evidence to show why she suddenly transferred more than half her assets to her son. A.M. appealed to court (she died while the appeal was pending).

The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division affirms, holding that A.M. did not establish that the transfer was done exclusively for reasons other than to qualify for Medicaid. The court notes that A.M. "failed to present any evidence as to how [A.M.] was allegedly able to live independently during the period between her substantial gift to her son and her admission to the nursing home."

For the full text of this decision in PDF, go to: 

How to Choose an Investment Advisor - The Wealthy and Wise Episode 1 (Video)

The Wealthy and Wise Community is finally here!  Its aim: Educate the middle-class millionaire so they are empowered to take action to meet their goals about building and building their wealth.


There are people who make a career out of investing and growing your money for a reason - it is a full time job, and as with all jobs, experience can make for better decisions. This is not to say that you can't successfully invest on your own - many people do. One problem that I see is people being intimidated by the idea of a financial advisor.  They think that they don't have enough money, or that that they won't understand what the advisor is saying.  I don't think either of these are true, as long as you have the right advisor for you.

So how do you find the right advisor for you?  We talk about it in the video above, but some starting points include:

  • Ask for recommendations from people that you know and trust - it could be family, friends, attorneys, accountants.  Get several and research the people of the web.
  • Interview several advisors - like attorneys, they come in all shapes and sizes and there are many different approaches to investing.  Beyond thinking that person is knowledgeable, you should like them on a personal level and feel comfortable taking with them.
  • Make sure you understand how the advisor gets paid. Investing is a business, and people are and should be compensated.  There are different ways to get paid.  Remember, it is your money however, so you need to understand exactly how an advisor is compensated for any work you do.
  • How often will you and the advisor be communicating?  Good advisors meet their clients no less than quarterly (whether by phone or in person) and some monthly.  How often do you want to be reviewing and discussing finances? And how?
  • Finally, have an honest discussion with yourself.  Will working with a financial advisor add value to you?  Value can be many reasons - you think you will be more successful, you don't like doing it, you don't have time, you want to learn more.  If it will, consider retaining one.