by Stanley M. Vasiliadis, Esquire

What’s in a name?  That depends on the name.  Apparently, all that’s needed to acquire the title “Lawyer of Distinction” is submission of an application together with a registration fee. Who would have guessed that Zippy, a chicken, could qualify?  Think I’m kidding?  Check it out at

A proliferation of titles and their acronyms have engulfed the professions, particularly in the field of estate planning.  Before relying upon an impressive-sounding title to select an advisor, check it out.  It’s probably as easy as a quick google search. If you search “Certified Elder Law Attorney”, or “CELA”, you will uncover eligibility criteria that include demonstrated specialized knowledge and experience by a human being in a variety of elder law topics, and the need to pass a full-day rigorous exam that most applicants fail on their first try.

Any lawyer can declare himself or herself to be an “elder law attorney” or buy a bogus title such as “Lawyer of Distinction”.  If you want to hire an elder law attorney, ask the prospective candidate the following:

Are you a Certified Elder Law Attorney?

All attorneys in Pennsylvania are licensed to practice law by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  But only Certified Elder Law Attorneys, with the “CELA”—Certified Elder Law Attorney — designation are recognized by the Court as elder law specialists. Strict and comprehensive criteria must be met in order to become a CELA.  These include a one-time full-day certification examination; rigorous continuing education requirements; substantial experience in a wide range of elder law issues; a favorable evaluation by five elder law attorney specialists; and a similar re-certification process every five years.

How many cases like mine have you handled before?

Any lawyer with little or no actual experience can claim to be to be an elder law attorney.  Others may have elder law experience but not with the particular matter involved. For example, there are many lawyers who prepare wills, powers of attorney and living wills who don’t know how to help someone protect their assets against financially ruinous nursing home costs. Ask for specifics, including the types of elder law cases they have handled in the past.

Have you written any articles published in legal journals on elder law topics? Can I see some of them?

As with medicine and many other licensed professions, publication in recognized legal journals or other peer-review periodicals is one indicator that the lawyer you interview has good credentials.

Have you earned any awards or other recognitions in the field of elder law?  What are they and who awarded them?

Recognition by colleagues is more than just a plaque on the office wall. Attorneys, as other professionals, know their industry and are more likely to present professional honors on those who stand above their colleagues and the competition. This is another indicator that the lawyer you hire is qualified.

Have you presented any programs on behalf of the Pennsylvania Bar Institute on topics of elder law?

An invitation from the Pennsylvania Bar Institute, the educational arm of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, to teach elder law to attorneys throughout the State demonstrates that this person is someone recognized by his or her peers as an expert in the field.

Do you litigate adverse decisions in elder law cases?  How many elder law cases have you litigated regarding the issues involved in my case? What is your track record of success in litigating adverse elder law decisions?

Some lawyers who take on elder law cases have no litigation experience.  Other lawyers may be experienced litigators but do not know or understand the law applicable in elder law matters.  In either case, this can put the client at a great disadvantage. The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, the agency that administers Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program, occasionally takes positions contrary to federal mandates. When that happens, it backs down only when faced with a credible challenge.

Thinking about consulting with the Lawyers at Vasiliadis Pappas Associates LLC?  Ask around about us and investigate our credentials.  And DO ask us the questions above.  We think you’ll be pleased with the answers.