An Emotional Area of Practice

Marco Chayet chose elder law because of a landmark (and personal) case

Published in 2011 Colorado Rising Stars — April 2011

“Their world is coming down on them and they’re looking to you to solve this crisis,” says elder law attorney, Marco D. Chayet, on the clients who walk through his door. “It is something that you, as the elder law attorney, have to have the emotional and psychological makeup and legal skills to handle. The business is out there, but it is a very emotional area of practice.”

Chayet knows. Not just because he’s handled hundreds of elder law cases since he began his legal career in 1997. He knows from personal experience.

When Chayet was just beginning law school in 1994, his grandmother, Letty Milstein, began showing signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Chayet, who was very close to his grandmother, says it was a common thought at the time that people simply became more forgetful as they age. However when Milstein fell in her home and broke her hip—a triggering event that Chayet says is common in causing family members to act in these situations—her incapacity seemed worse. She could no longer take care of herself and Chayet’s mother and uncle began to disagree over the future of their mother’s care and finances.

Chayet’s mother sought out an elder law attorney and decided to petition for conservatorship and guardianship, the court-appointed person in charge of all medical and financial decisions. At the time, it was relatively easy to obtain such appointments—albeit temporarily. However, the family’s disagreements led to years of litigation and The Estate of Milstein v. Ayers became a landmark probate case in Colorado with respect to the due process rights of alleged incapacitated people in the context of a contested guardianship case. It supports the notion that an incapacitated adult with Alzheimer’s still has a right to counsel in a guardianship proceeding.

Chayet had been planning on natural resources law but his grandmother’s case changed his path. “I wanted to try to make sure that other families didn’t go through what my family went through, or at least try to assist them,” he says.

Few attorneys were practicing elder law at this time, Chayet says. In fact, he was the only graduate in his class at the University of Colorado Law School to go into the area. The past decade has brought a dramatic change, however. The combination of an aging population, advances in medical technology, and increased media exposure to estate and elder law cases (e.g., Brooke Astor) have resulted in a rapid growth of the practice area.

In early 2002, Chayet opened his own firm, Denver-based Chayet & Danzo, to handle all areas associated with aging, incapacity and disabilities. Last year, he endowed the first scholarship of its kind: the Chayet & Danzo, LLC Colorado Elder Law Endowed Scholarship at the University of Colorado Law School.

“Elder law is really an umbrella for many different practice areas,” Chayet says. “It’s about the type of client you serve, not necessarily the area of law.” Areas of law that come up include estate planning, probate litigation, guardianship issues, long-term care planning, public and private benefits, business law and real estate law.

“The hardest thing from an elder law practitioner standpoint,” Chayet says, “is that we deal with death, dying and disability every day.” But that’s also why it’s rewarding. Because the issues are so fraught with emotion, so central to existence, you get, Chayet says, “that feeling of actually making a difference in someone’s life.”

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