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Students get hands-on experience in burgeoning elder law field.

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Leading-Edge Legal Opportunities

ABA helps lawyers thrive by being at the forefront of new practice areas.

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Wake Forest Law co-hosts ‘Exploring Ethics’ panel on April 18 featuring Professor Kate Mewhinney

Wake Forest Law Professor Kate Mewhinney, director of the Elder Law Clinic, will speak at the seventh annual Exploring Ethics discussion “Urban Myths: Legal Legends about End-of-Life Care You Thought Were True!” The talk will take place from 12 p.m. – 1 p.m. on Thursday, April 18, in the Emergency Medicine Conference Room of the Baptist Health Center. The event is co-hosted by the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center (WFBMC).

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Elder Law Clinic partners with Senior Services, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center to help area seniors

Tiffany Tyler reviews documents with her client.

Tiffany Tyler reviews documents with her client.

Elder law used to mean writing a will and choosing a power of attorney should one become disabled. These days lawyers who pursue the specialty find themselves helping a new generation of seniors navigate territory their parents never faced – one that often requires lawyers to play the role of social worker, psychologist and advocate, said Kate Mewhinney, a clinical professor at the Wake Forest University School of Law who oversees the Elder Law Clinic.

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Trust Fund Baby

Kathryn Hatcher helped a client get her affairs in order.

The phrase “trust fund baby” conjures up a rich kid with a few million dollars.  Trusts can also be useful for those with modest assets.

Sometimes our clients want to leave money to relatives who are too young or sick to manage an inheritance.  Mitra Tashakkori’s client wants his great niece to inherit the full value of his home.  But the great niece is only eight years old and her parents are not trustworthy.

Mitra researched some options for this client.  One possibility is for the Clerk of Court to hold the money until the child is an adult.  Another option is to set up a trust, but financial institutions prefer to handle larger trust funds than this client will be
leaving.  A private lawyer could serve as trustee, but there are some costs associated with this.  We are recommending another option called a custodial
account.  A local elder law attorney has agreed to serve as custodian of the funds, under the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act.

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Client Feedback

A light moment between Danielle Godfrey and her client.

  • Laura Esseesse “was very learned at knowledge of the law.  Plus, she was friendly and helpful in answering my questions.”
  • Kathryn Hatcher’s client wrote, “I think she did an outstanding job interviewing.  She was professional, knowledgeable, and put me at ease.”
  • Sara Playerhad excellent rapport with me.  I am thankful for her willingness to serve.
  • Parker Smithwas courteous and very knowledgeable about my needs.”
  • Mitra Takkashori’s client appreciated that she “took her time and explained everything to me.”

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Unable to Manage?

A family conference with Parker Smith.

Why would an articulate and well-groomed adult be declared incompetent?  This was the dilemma faced by Danielle Godfrey.  She was appointed to be the advocate or “guardian ad litem” for this man.  At the court hearing, Danielle recommended that a guardian be appointed, explaining:

Despite his outward appearance, he could no longer manage his own affairs or make
important decisions.  He forgot doctors appointments and got lost when he went on walks.  He would make excuses for these lapses, but without the assistance of a guardian, he would continue to be a threat to his own safety.   

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When the State Ignores the Law

Laura Esseesse confers with a client and her son.

Tyler Radtke found a federal Medicaid law which says something very different from our state law.  This affects older people, such as one of Tyler’s clients.

Here’s the client’s situation:  her son has been living with her in her home, which keeps her out of a nursing home.  Federal law recognizes this caregiving.  How?  It says that she can leave her home to her caregiver child, free of Medicaid’s usual reimbursement claim.  This exception to Medicaid “estate recovery” is not, however, recognized in N.C.’s law.  Tyler is negotiating with the state to honor the federal law, which should take precedence over state rules.

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Inside a Medical Clinic

Kathryn Hatcher writes:

I observed the assessment of a patient with mild cognitive impairment.  The geriatrician felt that depression was a contributing factor.  He explained that medications might not be worth the side effects they cause.  Medications can delay nursing home admission, but can also impair digestion (causing weight loss) and slow the heart rate.  Instead, he recommended that the patient be kept active mentally and socially.  I gave the patient, his wife, and the medical interns a short talk about the benefits of advance directives and financial powers of attorney.

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Wading into Deep Water

Sharing concerns with Sara Player.

One of the trickiest aspects of elder law is Medicaid.  Few firms have expertise in this area and many people want advice about it.  These clients see the little bit they own disappearing to pay for long-term care costs.  The Elder Law Clinic students learn the fundamentals of Medicaid and meet with several clients who have questions.

Sometimes, the issues result from “self-help” Medicaid planning.  Parker Smith had a client who owned two homes – his own home and his elderly father’s home.  Why?  Because the adult children (including Parker’s client) thought it would be a good idea for their dad to re-title his home.  They thought they were “protecting” it. Now, the second home makes Parker’s client ineligible for Medicaid.  And the father will also be denied Medicaid due to a transfer of assets.

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