What is a CELA? (Certified Elder Law Attorney)*

Elder Law involves the counseling and representation of older persons and their families or representatives. This can include health and long-term care planning, public benefits, surrogate decision-making, older persons' legal capacity, the conservation, disposition and administration of older persons' estates and the implementation of their decisions concerning such matters.

Attorneys certified in Elder Law by the National Elder Law Foundation must be capable of recognizing issues of concern that arise during counseling and representation of older persons or their representatives with respect to abuse, neglect, or exploitation. They must also be highly skilled in dealing with insurance, housing, long-term care, employment, and retirement. The certified Elder Law attorney must be familiar with professional and non-legal resources and services publicly and privately available to meet the needs of the older persons, and be capable of recognizing the professional conduct and ethical issues that arise during representation.

How Do I Know If My Attorney Is Certified?

It is crucial that you check to make sure that your lawyer is certified by the National Elder Law Foundation (www.nelf.org), before you hire an Elder Law Attorney.

The Foundation has developed a certification program for Elder Law attorneys to identify the lawyers who have the enhanced knowledge, skills, experience, and proficiency to be properly identified to the public as Certified Elder Law Attorneys.

Any attorney who is licensed to practice may say that they are competent in "Elder Law", or that they are an "Elder Law attorney".  Even if they have no special training or experience handling elder law matters, they may still try to obtain your business. It is therefore essential that you do your research and only choose an attorney who is proficient in dealing with your issues.

What Does Certification Mean?

The purpose of the certification program is to identify those lawyers who are superiorly knowledgably, highly experienced, and proficiently skilled in Elder Law. Only then may they be properly identified to the public as certified Elder Law attorneys. If all of the requirements of the board are fulfilled, it may be announced that the attorney is “Certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation.”

What Are The Criteria For Certification?

The following list briefly describes the minimum standards, which must be met to become certified. These standards are more fully specified in Section 5 of the National Elder Law Foundation Rules and Regulations.

  1. Licensure: A CELA must be licensed to practice law in at least one state or the District of Columbia.
  2. Practice:  A CELA must have practiced law for at least five-years.
  3. Integrity and Good Standing: A CELA must be either a member in good standing of the bars in all places in which they are licensed or have been a member in good standing at the time any license was voluntarily surrendered.
  4. Substantial Involvement/Experience: A CELA must have spent an average of at least 16 hours per week practicing Elder Law as defined by Section 2 of the Rules and Regulations, during each of the three-years immediately preceding their application. In addition, A CELA must have handled a variety of at least 60 Elder Law matters during those three-years.
  5. Continuing Legal Education: A CELA must have participated in at least 45 hours of continuing legal education in Elder Law during the three-years preceding their application.
  6. Peer Review/Professional References:  A CELA must submit the names of five references from attorneys familiar with their competence and qualifications in Elder Law.
  7. Examination: A CELA must sit for the certification examination within two-years of their application. The examination is a day- long process requiring the CELA to demonstrate in-depth knowledge of the five core areas of Elder Law. They must also prove a working knowledge of the eight secondary Elder Law practice areas, as well as an understanding of the ethical issues pervasive in Elder Law. 


* The Supreme Court of Illinois does not recognize certifications of specialties in the practice of law and the CELA designation is not a requirement to practice law in Illinois.




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