CELA is an acronym or abbreviation which stands for a Certified Elder Law Attorney who has received the certification from the National Elder Law Foundation. The National Elder Law Foundation (“NELF”) is the only national organization certifying practitioners of elder and special needs law approved and certified by the American Bar Association. * The purpose of the certification program is to identify those lawyers who have the enhanced knowledge, skills, experience, and proficiency to be properly identified to the public as certified elder law attorneys.

The Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) certification has frequently been referred to as “the gold standard” for elder law and special needs practitioners.  This reflects the hard work and proof required before an attorney can proudly proclaim that he or she holds the valued designation.

Preparation for a CELA designation includes several steps and several different types of qualifications, all of which are designed to assure that clients receive good legal care. A Certified Elder Law Attorney is more than just an attorney who specializes in the field of elder law. CELAs are committed, through certification, to maintaining and improving their proficiency with continual practice and continuing legal education. Becoming certified in elder law validates a lawyer’s speciality to handle issues that affect senior citizens. A CELA is in a unique position to serve the interests of older, maturing populations by having met comprehensive and strict requirements. Before being certified, an applicant must:

Have practised law for at least five years, and have focused at least half of their practice in the special needs/elder law field for at least the last three of those years. Those areas include but are not limited to, Health and Personal Care Planning, including giving advice regarding, and preparing, advance medical directives such as Durable Powers of Attorney, Pre-Mortem Legal Planning, including Estate Planning, Trusts and Asset Protection, Fiduciary Representation, including representing executors in Probate, trustees in Trust Administration, or another formal or informal fiduciary, advising how capacity is determined and representing individuals in guardianship proceedings, assisting in Public Benefits Advice, including Medicaid Planning for and assisting Medicaid Applications, Special Needs Planning including the planning, drafting and administration of Special Needs Trust.

Demonstrate “substantial involvement” in special needs and elder law practice, by demonstrating a minimum number of individual cases, including having handled at least 60 elder law matters with a specified distribution among a number of different categories making up the “elder law” definition, as well as having participated in at least 45 hours of continuing legal education in elder law during the three years preceding the application.

Study for, take and pass a rigorous, day-long written examination. In prior years, the pass rate has been as low as 14 per cent, and that is of applicants who have already met the experience requirements of “substantial involvement” in Elder law.

Undergo a review by peers and colleagues, focused on the applicant’s reputation for ethical and competent representation in elder law and special needs planning matters.

The Illinois Supreme Court does not recognize certifications of specialities in the practice of law, and certification is not a requirement to practice law in Illinois*.   What that means is that any attorney licensed to practice law in Illinois can set himself or herself out as an Elder Law Attorney, and many of those who do are highly skilled professionals with extensive knowledge in Elder Law.  The problem for most people is how do you determine which attorney has limited knowledge and experience and which one possesses the skill and experience that you want in the Attorney representing you or your loved one?  If you choose a CELA as your Attorney you can be assured that the CELA is an Attorney who has demonstrated extensive knowledge and skill in special needs and elder law, who has passed a rigorous examination, who maintains continuing legal education and standards of involvement in Elder Law matters, and who has undergone a review by other recognized Elder Law Attorneys, focused on the applicant’s reputation for ethical and competent representation in elder law and special needs planning matters.

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