Lawyer Monthly - June 2022

JUN 2022 | WWW.LAWYER-MONTHLY.COM probably caused her more suffering than was needed because I did not understand how to fight for her rights as a dementia patient in a nursing home. Once she passed away and my mom and I had the chance to catch our breath and reflect on all that had happened, I realised that this is an area where families really need specialised help. I started doing some research and learned that “elder law” actually was a recognised practice area. There were no elder law attorneys in my city, so I started doing more research, then decided to open my own elder law firm. Can you share anything about your plans for ElderCounsel in 2022 and beyond? We are starting to offer in-person education again at our dedicated conference centre space in Denver, CO. We will be offering our traditional immersion programs and some new ones aimed at marketing and practice building. We will also continue investing in products and services that help our members be the best at what they do. We feel it is our responsibility to continue educating attorneys and the public about what elder law is and encourage as many as we can to embrace this area of law. There are so many families who need this type of specialised help and right now there are not nearly enough attorneys qualified to provide it.” Please tell us a little about your journey into law. From a young age I wanted to be a lawyer. We had a family friend when I was really young who was a lawyer and I always saw him helping people. I saw it first hand as a 19-year-old when he helped us after my dad died and we had overwhelming hospital bills. But for his guidance, we could have lost our home and much more. That experience only reinforced my decision to become a lawyer. Plus, I loved school, I loved to learn something and then talk about it (and often argue about it), and I saw law school as a way to continue doing~ @c vbm,hat I loved, with the end result being enabled to help people. What led you to specialise in elder law specifically? Growing up, I had two great aunts from my dad’s side who were always very involved in my life. Neither of them had children of their own, and they treated my sisters and me like their own. After my dad died, they became even more involved – they would attend my college basketball games, check on my mom constantly, and they helped pay for law school. My great aunts lived together for many years. In my third year of law school, one of them died. After she passed away, we realised that my other aunt’s memory was failing quite rapidly. I graduated from law school and took a job in the same town where my aunt lived so I could help care for her, as my mom was about five hours away. Together mom and I did the best we could, but eventually we needed to move my great aunt into a nursing home as she was no longer safe at home due to advancing dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. That was where the real challenges began, which would later lead me to elder law. I made a lot of poor decisions about my aunt’s care based on ignorance. I was a litigator at the time, and I had never heard of elder law. I certainly did not realise the rights my aunt had as a patient in a nursing home, so when they called to tell me they were discharging her because she had become combative, I did not fight it, even though it felt wrong. They gave me 48 hours to “come and get her,” but unfortunately there were no other nursing homes with space in my city. Instead I had to get her admitted to a hospital for evaluation while I scrambled to find her a new facility. The only one I could find was an hour away. With a dementia patient, a change of facility can be very detrimental, and it was to my aunt – she did not speak much after that first move and hardly recognised me from that point on. I ended up moving her one more time to a facility 30 minutes away before she died three years later. After the first move she hardly spoke to me again. I ELDER LAW COVER FEATURE - VALERIE PETERSON 17 I am Valerie Peterson, CEO of ElderCounsel. ElderCounsel is a membership organisation that supports elder law attorneys across the United States. Members of ElderCounsel receive a comprehensive document drafting system, education and marketing as well as practice building support. We cover elder law, estate planning, Medicaid planning, special needs planning and veterans’ pension planning in our documents and education.

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