Most of us know that when we break our leg skiing, a trip to the hospital is in order. If buckets of water are pouring from our pipes, a plumber must be called. And if the car makes a noise that sounds like the blade of a lawnmower being dragged down a chalkboard, it needs to go to the shop. Despite our best efforts, there are some things that we cannot deal with on our own and we must seek professional help. The same holds true when facing some of the complex legal issues surrounding long term health-care for aging loved ones.

When we (usually suddenly) find ourselves facing the question of long term care, we quickly discover that there is a never ending stream of well-intentioned advice from friends, relatives, co-workers, and even total strangers. The problem that soon becomes apparent is that much of the advice is contradictory. One person swears that you should do what they did for their grandmother, and another is adamant that the way their uncle’s case was handled is the only answer. And neither method is the same. Unfortunately, it also becomes evident that some of these solutions can be like a proverbial lobster trap: If you later change your mind about it, getting back out might be all-but-impossible. For example: The old chestnut of “…Put [the family member] on Title 19” may be exactly what you do not want to do in your case. Or perhaps only as a last resort. Unlike buyer’s remorse when leaving the car dealership, a poorly informed choice here can be a catastrophe. The solution? There may come a time when you need to work with a lawyer.

Let’s address the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room right off the bat: Yes – working with an attorney is going to be expensive. There is no way around that. It will vary based upon where you are, the needs of your case, and just how much of time it all takes, but be prepared that it will not come cheap. However the bottom line is that, at some point, you will need the expertise of a person who knows the law and can steer you in the right direction; and away from the pitfalls. Think about it this way, how expensive will it be if you don’t handle this right?  And there are ways to keep from paying too much in legal fees. What are they?

First, know what kind of lawyer that you need. If it is care for an older family member, you will want to consult with someone who specializes in just that: The elder care attorney. Knowing this will keep time and money from being spent “barking up the wrong trees” so to speak. Then you’ll want to get as much information as you can on all of the services and care that will be needed for the person, along with every scrap of paperwork that will be asked for, and every question that you can possibly think of clearly written down – with room to write the answers you are given. In short, once you have done your homework and found an attorney that is the right fit for you, you’ll want to have as many of your ducks in a row as you can when you walk into that office, because yes; the meter will be running, and time is money. Yours.

The most important thing to bear in mind is that – unlike friends, relatives, and total strangers that we meet at the grocery checkout line – attorneys know the law of the land. This is their job. Elder care attorneys, for example, are in business to make sure that older ones get the care that they need within the framework of the system. They are there so that you don’t have to go this alone. But it is your job to have your particular information in order so that you don’t spend inordinate amounts of expensive time having them weed through it all. Remember: You are not calling them to ask for medical advice, or to just “shoot the breeze” about how your loved one is doing. You call them at the time when you need them, and make sure to record their answers and follow their guidance. Do not act like they are your enemy. Be their friend, and they will be yours. In the end, just like that hospital, plumber, or mechanic that you would call when required, the reason you talk with the attorney is because there simply comes a time when you need their help.