Here’s something you may not know: I am one of 19 certified elder law attorneys in the state of Michigan — a state with over 35,000 practicing attorneys.

Certification in elder law is a huge step above passing the state bar and practicing as an attorney. In order to become certified, eligible attorneys are put through a meticulous background check. The certifying organization — in this case, the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF) — consults with your peers looks at your practice history to see if you’re in good standing. They also look at your experience in elder law and how long you have been in practice, and how many elder law cases you have handled. Once they determine your eligibility, and if you are accepted into their certification track, the next step is passing a rigorous exam, which I had to study intensely for. When I arrived on my test day, I had flashbacks to when I was taking the bar exam (the pros — I have lots more practical life experience under my belt since I originally took the bar exam.  The cons:  my memory is not quite as good as when I was in my early 20s).

Ultimately, becoming a National Elder Law Foundation certified attorney means you have significant experience in the areas of law dealing with seniors and their families. For myself, this has been and will continue to be my core focus. Our firm is dedicated to this part of the law, unlike many other attorneys who have a broader scope.

Those attorneys — attorneys who cover a laundry list of different practice areas (personal injury, DUI, family law, and elder law, for example) — are not fully equipped to handle more specialized cases. That isn’t to say they are necessarily bad; they do serve a purpose obviously, but when you are trying to keep up with so many different and detailed areas of practice, you can spread yourself thin (remember the older saying “jack of all trades, master of none”?).

Elder law changes on a regular basis. There are always new things to keep up with. On top of that, the existing law is nuanced. When you work with an attorney who is certified in a specific area of law, like elder law, you know they are keeping up with the times.

One good example is that our clients get the most up-to-date strategies regarding asset protection when going into a nursing home. We’re well-versed in determining how to take care of the associated expenses, whether it’s restructuring assets or looking for a new source of income.

If a client went to a “regular” attorney who focuses on several areas of law, the client and their family would not get the care and attention they need. We’ve heard it countless times, a client coming in when a spouse or loved one is in a nursing home, telling us:  “my other attorney told me we are going to have to sell our home” or “we were told we have to spend every dime first before we qualify for benefits for nursing home care”.

The reality is that this advice is just plain wrong. When you understand how the laws work and what is really available to people in terms of strategy, you avoid these types of worst-case scenarios. But more than that, when you work with an attorney who is truly invested in their area of practice — and invested in seniors and their families and family dynamics — the results speak for themselves.

I’m glad I pursued certification and was able to really immerse myself in elder law and estate planning. As much as it means to me, it means so much more to the people who rely on us every day — our clients.

–Glenn Matecun

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