Posts Tagged ‘NAELA’

NAELA, NELF, CELA, ACTEC — What Does It All Mean?

APRIL 18, 2011 VOLUME 18 NUMBER 14

All you want to do is to find a lawyer to draft a simple will and powers of attorney. You ask your friends, but no one has a referral they feel unequivocally good about. A little online searching reveals that there are any number of organizations, credentials and qualifications–but how on earth do you figure out which lawyer actually knows something about estate planning, or Medicaid eligibility, or special needs trusts, guardianship and conservatorship (or whatever your elder law problem actually might be)? Let us give you a primer so you can identify the candidates.

NAELA (the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys) is probably the first place to look. Any lawyer in the country who does any significant amount of elder law (and that term is generally understood to include all the categories in the previous paragraph) probably belongs. There are about 5000 members, and the organization has been around for twenty years.

To belong to NAELA all you have to provide is proof that you are a lawyer and a $375 check each year. Even though the dues are not high, they serve as a low-level filter–those who sign up tend to actually work in the trenches of elder law. The organization has the best continuing legal education programs, the best camaraderie and the best sharing of any professional organization around.

There are actually several “flavors” of NAELA. Advanced elder law practitioners formed a subdivision of the organization two years ago; the Council of Advanced Practitioners (NAELA/CAP) is a highly selective group who meet separately once a year, exchange more sophisticated practice ideas and share much closer personal and professional connections.

Then there are the NAELA Fellows. Each year a small handful of NAELA members are selected to be Fellows, based on their reputations in the national and local communities, their hard work in the field, and their writing and speaking. The Fellows are the best-known, hardest-working elder law attorneys in the country–and there are fewer than 100 of them.

NAELA members who want to announce their availability for particular types of elder law work can sign up for the NAELA Experience Registry. Other than a certification that you are familiar with the area you sign up for, and payment of an annual fee, there is no requirement that you prove knowledge, experience or capability. Still, participation in the Experience Registry can be an indication of real interest in an area of elder law.

NELF (the National Elder Law Foundation) was an outgrowth of NAELA but is a separate entity. Its primary function is to operate an elder law certification program, and to grant successful applicants the CELA (Certified Elder Law Attorney) designation. CELAs must pass a full-day written exam (which has a famously low pass rate) and establish that they have real experience in the field.

ACTEC (the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel) is an entirely separate organization with some overlap but a significant difference. ACTEC Fellows (the name for all members) have to have been nominated by an existing Fellow; there is no application process and no way to sign up other than to get invited after a year-long vetting process. ACTEC Fellows tend to dress nicer, drink finer wines (not nearly as much beer) and belong to larger law firms than NAELA members.

There are, in addition, several for-profit organizations focused on estate planning and other elder law sub-specialties. Membership in any one of these may indicate that the lawyer takes the practice seriously, is trying to improve his or her skills through continuing education, and is committed enough to the practice to pay a (sometimes hefty) fee. Those organizations include the National Network of Estate Planning Attorneys (NNEPA), the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys (AAEPA), and Wealth Counsel. Each of those organizations has its staunch partisans; even a cursory look at their websites will illustrate that their primary focus is on their membership, rather than providing public information or referrals.

There are at least two national organizations for lawyers who practice in the special needs arena. One, the Special Needs Alliance, is a non-profit organization with an invitation-only membership structure. The other, the Academy of Special Needs Planners, is a membership group open to anyone who is interested enough in the field to pay its hefty membership fee.

In addition to all of that, your state bar association and/or Supreme Court may have created a legal specialty in estate planning, tax, elder law, or related fields–or in more than one of those. State specialization usually indicates a serious peer review process, a challenging written examination, and a higher requirement for continuing legal education to maintain the certification. Arizona, for example, provides certification for “Estate and Trust” lawyers as well as Tax practitioners, and also recognizes the CELA designation described above.

Should you demand that your new lawyer have one or more of the credentials described here? No, not necessarily–though you might ask further questions if he or she does not belong to any of these professional associations. The websites of each may give you some leads to locate experienced and competent practitioners in your area.

Federal Budget Battles Again Focus on Medicare, Medicaid

MAY 13, 1996 VOLUME 3, NUMBER 46

Now that the Federal government has finally adopted a budget for the current year (more than half-way through the year itself), Congress and the President are turning their attention to the 1996-1997 budget year. Both the Clinton Administration and Republican Congressional leaders have developed proposals which aim to balance the budget by 2002, though they disagree on almost every element of how to reach that goal.

Nonetheless, several themes are common between the two disparate proposals. In the next six years, both approaches aim to save over $100 billion in Medicare expenditures. Each plan proposes savings of about half as much from Medicaid and a third more from other welfare programs. Defense and other cuts will about equal the cuts in all medical and welfare programs under both sets of proposals.

One big difference: Republicans also propose a tax cut of over $100 billion, while President Clinton’s tax cut would amount to only about $6 billion (though the administration disputes this calculation and insists that his tax cut would total $30 billion).

The real issue, however, is not how much the current proposals differ from one another. This year’s offering from the Administration is essentially similar to last year’s final offer to the Republicans. Congress, on the other hand, has dramatically reduced the size of the proposed tax increase, while also paring back expenditure reductions (especially in Medicare). (Still, the Medicare program is tagged with responsibility for nearly a third of all savings by Congress.)

What has changed in the Republican agenda? Conventional wisdom holds that the Presidential tactic of painting Republicans as enemies of the elderly and friends of the undeserving wealthy was a major political success. In this election year, the rhetoric is expected to be more vigorous and the product less certain.

PCOA and Local Attorneys Start Legal Clinic

The Pima Council on Aging (PCOA) and the Arizona Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) last month announced the institution of a new service for Pima County seniors. Local NAELA members have volunteered to staff an “information-only” legal clinic at PCOA’s offices every two weeks through the summer.

The legal advice clinic will match one elder law attorney with seven or eight clients for half-hour sessions. Scheduling is being handled by PCOA; callers are being screened to see if they can be helped to utilize other resources already available in the community.

Only clients over age 60 will be eligible for assistance from the legal clinic. Interested elders can contact PCOA at 790-7262 to inquire about the availability of appointments.

The clinic will not provide full legal representation. Elders who require representation in court, or continuing legal assistance, will be advised of their needs and directed to available resources. Those requiring only legal explanations and advice, however, will be able to get that help from the volunteer lawyers.

While the clinic will not charge participants for the legal advice, a donation of $15 to PCOA is suggested. Donations will help defray the cost of staff and office time incurred by PCOA; the participating attorneys will not receive any fees.

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