House of Hanson
How Laurie Hanson’s family life informs her elder law practice and advocacy efforts
Published in 2017 Minnesota Super Lawyers magazine on July 5, 2017
Among the many who have taught Laurie Hanson about working on behalf of disabled people, her stepson provided one of the most powerful lessons. Colin, 29, is a car buff and photographer who’s on the autism spectrum. While attending Augsburg College, he befriended a fellow student named Trent.
“He told us all about Trent,” Hanson says. “‘Trent also likes cars. Trent likes music.’
“Finally, we met Trent,” she says. “Trent has severe cerebral palsy. And he’s blind. But that was never anything that Colin thought was important to tell us about. Because he actually just—he doesn’t see it. And I think that’s what people with disabilities want: They want someone who doesn’t see them first with their disability but sees them as a person.”
Hanson, 61, has done more than dedicate much of her career to working on behalf of disabled people and older adults; she’s dedicated much of her life to the cause. As a kid, she was nominated for Chicago’s Junior Volunteer of the Year for volunteering in eighth and ninth grade at a school for disabled kids. After earning her law degree, she spent 15 years with the Senior Law Project at the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis before becoming a shareholder with the disability and elder law firm of Long, Reher, Hanson & Price in St. Louis Park.
At Legal Aid, Hanson grew intimately acquainted with the legal issues older low-income people face. She became a national authority on kinship law after working with grandparents struggling to make education decisions and get health care for their grandchildren when they didn’t have custody rights. To address those systemic problems, she later became a key player in drafting Minnesota’s third-party custody statute, which took effect in 2002.
Jerry Lane, who served as executive director of Mid-Minnesota Legal Assistance while Hanson was at Legal Aid, calls her advocacy for the statute “some of the most impactful work that she did.”
When Hanson joined Long Reher Hanson in 2004, her knowledge of public benefits and programs proved invaluable to her new practice—and to her continued advocacy.
Over the past eight years, Hanson has worked on committees nationally and with state Sen. Scott Dibble on legislation regarding pooled trust sub-accounts. Disabled seniors should be able to establish such accounts without losing medical assistance, she says. Currently, if a person receives an unexpected inheritance or a personal injury settlement, the state may deem them ineligible for crucial benefits. “We’ve had clients whose entire lives are disrupted because they get money,” Hanson says.
The solution? Placing the money in a trust account to help pay for goods and services not covered by Medical Assistance. “The federal Medicaid law allows this, but we have had to work hard to enforce the law in Minnesota and in other states,” she says.
Colin—the son of Hanson’s spouse, former elder law professor Kim Dayton—isn’t the only family member who has informed Hanson’s work. While Colin lives on the third floor of a duplex the couple owns in Minneapolis, Hanson’s 87-year-old father, who has Alzheimer’s, lives on the main level. So when clients share concerns about how they or their loved ones can get the best care and manage in the future, Hanson can relate.
“For parents of children with disabilities, they’re really worried about who’s going to take care of them when they’re not there,” she says. “We try to put a plan in place where at least there’s money to pay for somebody to check on them,” if they’re in a group home, for instance.
“I understand the challenges and the joy of having a child with a disability,” Hanson adds. “And living with my dad and mom, who also had Alzheimer’s, I also know what that’s like. So when these families come in, I have so much respect for what they’re doing as caregivers. I see it in my practice; I see it at my house.”