You do not need a lawyer to create a health care proxy or living will, but you may want to use one if you have unusual wishes or there are disagreements between family members.

You should consult with a lawyer to obtain a power of attorney document that names someone to be in charge of your finances. The document needs to be tailored to your individual needs and be drafted with precise legal language.

If you need help writing a living will, health care proxy or power of attorney document, you may want to enlist the help of an elder law attorney.

Elder law attorneys

Elder law attorneys focus on the legal needs of older people. Elder law is a broad field that encompasses estate planning, Medicare law, Medicaid law, insurance issues and nursing home issues as well as planning for future health needs. You should make sure the lawyer you choose focuses on the issues that are most important to you and has solid experience. Some lawyers will be certified which means they have a certain amount of knowledge and training in elder law. Not all elder care lawyers are certified and certification is not necessarily a sign of quality.

Most people start the search for a good lawyer by asking for recommendations from family and friends. You can also get referrals from the following places:

  • The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys assists lawyers, bar organizations and others who work with older clients and their families. The group’s web site offers lawyer referrals, and tips and resources for finding an elder law attorney.
  • The National Elder Law Foundation gives recommendations for certified elder law attorneys.
  • The American Bar Association’s (ABA) web site has a Lawyer Locator tool that allows you to search for lawyers in a particular specialty in your area. The ABA site also points visitors to local lawyer referral services.
  • State Bar Associations may offer information and referrals.
  • Your Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) may also be able to give you information and referrals.

If you have limited resources, you may be able to get free or low-cost legal help from the following places:

  • Legal aid societies. These agencies offer free or low-cost help to low-income seniors. You can find them in the phone book or on the internet by searching under legal aid. Federally funded programs are listed on the website of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). You may hear legal aid societies referred to as LSC services.
  • State Bar Associations. Many bar associations offer reduced or free (pro bono) legal services.
  • The Administration on Aging. This government office’s web site lists legal hotlines you can call to get help regardless of your finances.