Selecting a Good Elder Law Lawyer in Canada

Elder Law is a rapidly growing area in the practice of law. As the "baby boomers" begin to retire within the next few years, there will be an even greater demand for Canadian family lawyers who understand the law and regulations, both federal and provincial, that affect elderly persons.

Elder Law encompasses many different fields of law. Some examples are:

  • Preservation and transfer of assets seeking to avoid spousal impoverishment when a spouse enters a nursing home.

  • Disability claims and appeals.

  • Disability planning, including use of powers of attorney, living trusts, "living wills," for financial management and health care decisions, and other means of delegating management and decision-making to another in case of incompetency or incapacity.

  • Guardianships.

  • Estate planning, including planning for the management of one's estate during life and its disposition on death through the use of trusts, wills and other planning documents.

  • Probate.

  • Administration and management of trusts and estates.

  • Long-term care placements in nursing home and life care communities.

  • Nursing home issues including questions of patients' rights and nursing home quality.

  • Elder abuse and fraud recovery cases.

  • Housing issues, including discrimination and home equity conversions.

  • Age discrimination in employment.

  • Retirement, including public and private retirement benefits, survivor benefits and pension benefits.

  • Health law.

  • Mental health law.

    Most elder law and family lawyers in Canada do not specialize in every one of these areas. So when a Canadian family lawyer says they practice Elder Law, find out which of these matters are handled. You will want to hire the family lawyer who regularly handles matters in the area of concern in your particular case and who will know enough about the other fields to question whether the action being taken might be affected by laws in any of the other areas of law on the list.

    Unfortunately, there are some family lawyers who hold themselves out as "elder law lawyers" but who have little or no experience in this area of practice. They recognize that the aging of North America represents a business opportunity for them and they hope to take advantage (This is not limited to family lawyers, by the way. Financial planners, insurance agents, accountants, and bankers, to name just a few other occupations, have been known to do the same thing). For that reason, you will want to be particularly careful in narrowing down your selection of elder law lawyers.

    If you don't already have a list of prospective family lawyers a great place to start your search is right here at Canadian-Lawyers.ca. You can do a free search to come up with a list of lawyers by using the Find A Lawyer search box that can be accessed from anywhere on the Canadian-Lawyers.ca. (You should see a search box on the right side of your computer screen.)

    Once you have a list of Canadian family lawyers, use the following guidelines to do some initial screening and narrow your list down to three or four prospective candidates:

    Look at biographical information, including whatever you can find on websites for the family lawyers and their law firms. Do they appear to have expertise in the area of elder law that you need? Do they have any information on their Web sites that is helpful to you?

    Use search engines to surf the Web. Do searches under the name of the family lawyer and his or her law firm. Can you find any articles, FAQ's or other informational pieces that the family lawyer has done that that give you a level of comfort?

    Ask other people if they have heard of the Canadian family lawyer and what they think about them.

    Contact your provincial law society or visit its website to find out if the family lawyer is in good standing.

    Consider any special needs you have. For example, could you benefit from an attorney who speaks a language other than English?

    You shouldn't necessarily cross a Canadian family lawyer off your list just because he or she didn't have the time to meet with you on short notice. Nor should you expect to be able to discuss your matter on the telephone with the family lawyer. Good Canadian family lawyers are busy so they may not be able to spend as much time as they would like with prospective clients. You should also anticipate that whomever you hire may have to delegate a lot of responsibility to his or her staff. In turn, an important consideration should be to assess the way the lawyer's staff treats you since they are a reflection of how the lawyer practices. At a minimum, you should expect to be treated courteously and professionally both by the staff and by the lawyer.

    Other Considerations

    You should be prepared to pay a fee to meet the family lawyer. Elder law lawyers seldom take cases on contingency fees or do not charge for the first meeting. When you make the appointment, you should ask what the fee for the first meeting will be.

    You will probably want to hire a family lawyer with at least a few years of experience. However, experience does not a good lawyer make. Every practicing Canadian family lawyer knows other lawyers that he or she would not hire.

    Unless there are special circumstances, you will want to hire a Canadian family lawyer with a local office.

    Before you hire a family lawyer, ask for references. You want to talk to people who could comment on the lawyer's skills and trustworthiness. Ask if it is okay to talk to some of the lawyer's representative clients.

    Ask for a copy of a firm brochure and promotional materials. Crosscheck these materials against other sources and references.

    Ask to be provided with a copy of the Canadian lawyer's retainer agreement and have it explained to you before deciding on retaining the family lawyer or the family lawyer's law firm. You may end up paying a lot of money to the lawyer who you retain so make sure you understand what you are signing up for.

    Use your common sense and gut instincts to evaluate the remaining lawyers on your list. You'll want to be comfortable with the lawyer you hire. You want to choose the best lawyer who you think will do the best job for you. Start making some telephone calls.


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