What is a Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA), and Why Does it Matter?

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A CELA is a lawyer who has met the high standards required for certification as an elder law specialist by the National Elder Law Foundation. In order to attain certification as a CELA, lawyers are required to pass an elaborate screening process that includes a day-long written examination, at least 16 hours per week practicing elder law and at least 60 elder law matters during the three years preceding the application, peer references from 5 other elder law attorneys, and continuing legal education.

Few lawyers have the knowledge required to become certified. The passage rate on the certification exam in recent years has been under 30%. Elder law is the distinct legal field which concentrates on the special circumstances and needs of older and disabled persons. Areas within the elder law specialization include estate planning, wills, estates, trusts, guardianships, special needs planning for disabled children, powers of attorney and health care directives, retirement planning, and the protection of assets from taxes and from nursing home costs.

CELA certification by the National Elder Law Foundation is the only accepted certification in the field of Elder Law. In Georgia (and South Carolina), the certification process has been reviewed and approved by the Supreme Court and The American Bar Association. Both the Georgia and South Carolina Supreme Courts only permit lawyers who have met the rigorous certification standards of the National Elder Law Foundation to state that they are certified specialists in elder law and to use the “CELA” professional designation. The Georgia & South Carolina Supreme Courts have stated that the CELA professional designation provides a measure of assurance to the public that the attorney has an in-depth working knowledge of the legal issues that impact the elderly.

But you need to be aware that there is a major distinction between lawyers who say they are “elder law attorneys” and “Certified Elder Law Attorneys.” Any lawyer can say he or she practices “elder law.” And there are quite a few lawyers who hold themselves out as being “elder law attorneys” but who have little or no experience in this area of practice. They are merely trying to “cash in” on a business opportunity at your expense. To protect yourself, you need to make sure that your elder law attorney verifies that they are Certified in Elder Law. So, while certifications are sometimes meaningless or worse, they do provide you with valuable information when you are choosing a lawyer. When you need legal planning services for an aging or disabled individual, it makes good common sense for you to look for a Certified Elder Law Attorney.

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