Chester (Chip) McLaughlin JD

Mr. McLaughlin’s areas of practice, and a description of his approach to practicing in those areas of law, are described below.

Mr. McLaughlin began practicing elder law after being hired by attorney Charles Arnold as an associate attorney in Phoenix in 1992. And it has been his primary area of practice ever since. Elder law concerns legal services provided for seniors, many of whom are disabled and/or incapacitated, although he helps healthy seniors with their planning needs also. Almost all of the below titled areas of practice are included within the field of elder law.

Representing seniors with disabilities requires patience and an ability to listen and be caring. Often these clients have hearing or vision problems, or need more explanation than other clients, or slower explanations, regarding the legal advice that is being given. Some seniors have diminished mental capacity which has to be assessed by Mr. McLaughlin, to the extent an elder law attorney can do such an assessment, to determine the client’s ability to engage in planning. Mr. McLaughlin makes a special effort to address all of these concerns, to be understanding, and to treat the senior with dignity at all times. It is important that seniors feel safe and comfortable. Therefore, Mr. McLaughlin, while still maintaining professionalism, is friendly and maintains a sense of humor when appropriate. His office is in a Victorian home which is comfortable and homey, and is staffed by employees who are selected and trained to be kind, helpful and patient. Mr. McLaughlin also has two dogs, Ben and Jerry, who greet his clients, are affectionate, and help make the clients at ease.

Mr. McLaughlin is current a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys ( NAELA) , the Arizona Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, and the Elder Law, Mental Health and Special Needs Planning Section of the Arizona State Bar. He has also served in leadership positions on the two aforementioned state organizations. He is also an invitation-only member of the Arizona Medicaid Planning Council comprised of the best elder law attorneys in the state who meet regularly to discuss topics of interest to the members and to keep each other apprised of the latest developments in Arizona elder law and what is happening with respect to ALTCS, special needs trust planning, and the probate court system.

Mr. McLaughlin has been recognized as a statewide leader in elder law by his peers as reflected by his selection for many years to Southwest Super Lawyers and Best Lawyers in America in the field of elder law. Generally speaking, between the two rating systems, there are less than ten Arizona lawyers named every year and only a couple Arizona Lawyers are listed in both rating systems in the field of elder law. He has also received an A-V rating for many years by Martindale-Hubble which is the highest standard for legal excellence and ethics given by the organization. Mr. McLaughlin gets many of his referrals from other lawyers who recognize his expertise in the field, which is probably the best indication of his abilities in his area of practice.

Mr. McLaughlin’s work in this specific field of law is perhaps what he is most well known for. He prides himself on being a long term care planning attorney and not simply a Medicaid (ALTCS) planning attorney (for explanation of long term care and ALTCS planning, see Long Term Care Planning). In counseling his clients on long term care planning, he first carefully determines the client’s entire situation including the client’s diagnosis, care needs, financial resources and family relationships. He then attempts to project the individual’s ability to pay for his own care. If there is a concern about the disabled person’s ability to pay, then he will first look at options other than public benefits, such as private long term care insurance, a reverse mortgage, better investment planning, cutting client expenses, and developing the most cost effective care plan that will still provide for the client’s needs adequately in the least restrictive setting. If the client is on Medicare then those benefits may help to some degree but the benefits are very limited and short term. The Medicare benefits include nursing home and home health coverage, and hospice for dying patients.

If there is still a concern that the client will not be able to afford the cost of long term care then Mr. McLaughlin looks at whether and how the client can qualify for the V.A. improved pension benefit or benefits under the Arizona Long Term Care System ( A.L.T.C.S) He has become very well- known state wide for his expertise, extensive experience, and knowledge regarding the Arizona Long Term Care System ( A.L.T.C.S.) and the benefits the system provides for individuals in need of long term care services. He was at the forefront in Arizona of ALTCS planning strategies still in use today, such as the use of life estate deeds (now more commonly, beneficiary deeds) to protect the family home from estate recovery by Medicaid after the client dies, transferring assets into irrevocable trusts, and utilizing a retained single premium immediate annuity in combination with transfer planning to maximize savings for the client.

Mr. McLaughlin was the first attorney in Arizona to hire an ALTCS eligibility worker to file applications for clients and to assist him in planning for his clients. Mr. McLaughlin also is certified by the Veteran’s Administration to advise veterans on their veteran’s benefits and to do applications for them for benefits. Julie Martin, his associate attorney in the North Phoenix office, is one of the most qualified attorneys in the state with regard to doing ALTCS applications and in assisting in the planning, and is the only elder law attorney in Arizona who actually worked for ALTCS. Read more about Julie here.

Mr. Mclaughlin, as a very experienced estate planning attorney, is knowledgeable in the areas of trusts, wills, powers of attorney, and deeds which is very important in asset transfer planning, planning to protect the family home from ALTCS estate recovery, and preventing disqualification from ALTCS benefits if the spouse dies first..
Mr. McLaughlin is a sought after speaker, and has lectured for a wide variety of audiences regarding long term care planning and ALTCS for attorneys, financial planners and accountants, members of the elder care service industry and family caregivers. He has also been interviewed for news publications and been a radio host and guest speaker on the topic.

Often elder law attorneys, including Mr. McLaughlin, practice in the area of special needs trusts and planning because this field of law is closely related to elder law with respect to public benefits and trust planning. This is because many people with special needs are often eligible for public benefits with medical and/or financial eligibility requirements. These benefits may include ALTCS benefits, AHCCCS medical insurance, Supplemental Security Income benefits, Nutrition Assistance and HUD benefits. Mr. McLaughlin represents clients who are disabled themselves but competent, as well as family members planning for a special needs family member, in most cases a child. The planning centers on preserving the needed public benefits while ensuring that assets are preserved for the supplemental needs of the disabled person.

Mr. McLaughlin carefully analyzes the needs of each special needs person, what benefits they need and can or may in the future qualify for. He counsels his clients who are parents of a special needs child on the best way to leave a special needs child assets in their trust or will, and to provide for their needs in the future, and whether they should establish a special needs trust and/or ABLE account. He also advises clients on the special tax considerations associated with special needs planning. He discusses with the parent the child’s long term care needs and what will happen after the parent dies, and advises them on the legal planning that will help ensure that those needs are met. He will draft a special needs trust for the client if advisable. He also provides to the client with the trust, the firm’s Letter of Intent which gives the parent or other responsible person the opportunity to give instructions and provide information to their selected future caregiver when the client can no longer do the job.

Guardianship and conservatorship, and associated succession planning, is also discussed with the client, if appropriate, and Mr. McLaughlin regularly does guardianships for disabled persons after or right before they become an adult at age 18.

Mr. McLaughlin regularly works with personal injury attorneys who have clients receiving public benefits, or who may be eligible for public benefits, who will be negatively impacted by their receipt of any personal injury settlement funds. Mr. McLaughlin advises the client in such situations about what can be done to preserve the funds in some manner, sometimes through a special needs trust, or how to “spend down” the funds in a manner that will benefit the special needs individual without disqualifying them from their public benefits.

Mr. McLaughlin frequently lectures on special needs trusts and planning for lawyers, financial planners and accountants, and caregivers. Mr. McLaughlin, as a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, its Arizona Chapter, and the Arizona Medicaid Planning Council. He also continuously stays up to date on the new developments in national and state law and policy that affects special needs planning and trusts. He is a former member of the invitation only Special Needs Alliance and its public policy committee, comprised of special needs planning attorneys from across the country, after having been invited to become a member by the then president of the organization.

A very significant portion of Mr. McLaughlin’s practice is devoted to estate planning for persons of all ages, although most of his clients are age fifty or above. His estate clients include clients with very little wealth as well as clients with a very high net worth. He takes a very comprehensive approach to doing estate planning and believes that document preparation done in a vacuum does not properly serve the client. He believes that each estate plan should be carefully tailored to a client’s needs and wants. Therefore, he first obtains information from the client in the initial consultation regarding the client’s estate planning concerns, their family relationships, and their financial position, their existing estate planning documents, their health status, and care needs, if any. Then Mr. McLaughlin advises his clients on the estate plan which he believes will most effectively meet the clients’ needs. For example, in some rare cases, a Will is not required, or often a Will rather than a trust will suffice. He will carefully review beneficiary designations and titling on assets because this can have a huge impact on estate planning and taxation. He is often asked to review estate planning documents done by other attorneys, particularly estate plans done in another state. Whether those documents will need to be redone depends on the documents and the client’s current circumstances and desires. Almost always the powers of attorneys need to be redone because they are almost always State specific and often a trust will need at least some amendments, or sometimes need to be fully restated. Wills carry across state lines very well, and more often than not don’t need to be revised unless they are poorly done or the client’s wishes have changed.

In general, what distinguishes Mr. McLaughlin is the degree of detail and comprehensiveness in the estate planning he does, and his integrity and frankness in his advice as to what he believes his client’s estate planning needs are, while giving due consideration to the legal costs, and achieving simplicity to the greatest extent possible.

With respect to probate court proceedings, there are many lawyers who practice in this area of law. However, a lawyer’s efficiency and success is often predicated on the ability and experience of his paralegals and/or legal assistants because practice in this area of the law is very paralegal driven. Therefore, Mr. McLaughlin is very selective about the paralegals and/or legal assistants who work under him, who must be smart, experienced and efficient. If you click on this link for my paralegals I think you will find that his legal assistants meet this criteria.

Obviously when someone dies, in almost all cases it is a good idea for the client not to have to file a probate application or petition with the Court, and Mr. McLaughlin first determines whether a probate proceeding is really necessary or whether there are alternatives. He further determines if a probate is needed, whether it can be done informally by making application to the court probate registrar, or if a formal hearing will be required before a judge. He provides practical as well as legal advice to the client regarding how to settle an estate, avoid disputes with other family members, deal with taxes, and divide up property amongst beneficiaries fairly, pay creditors, sell a house, provide an accounting, obtain a release from liability for the administration of the estate, and other associated tasks.

With respect to a decedent’s trust administration, many clients are not aware that there are a fair number of legal requirements under the Arizona Trust Code that must be adhered to, and our firm advises our clients about these requirements, and has legal forms for complying with them. Therefore, a trustee should always seek out legal advice before beginning trust administration for a decedent’s trust.

Because the firm focuses on elder law, a lot of Mr. McLaughlin’s clients have incapacity issues. As a result we are often engaged in advising successor trustees on how to remove the incapacitated initial trustee, to become the successor trustee, and what they need to do to comply with the law while engaging in their trustee responsibilities and duties under the Arizona trust code and otherwise. When a trust becomes irrevocable due to the permanent incapacity of the settlor/trustor/grantor certain legal reporting requirements kick in for the successor trustee just like those required when a settlor/trustor/grantor dies.

Mr. McLaughlin is a member of the Probate and Trust section of the Arizona State Bar and has presented to the Bar on probate administration and given lectures to the public and other professionals on numerous occasions on the topics of probate and trust administration.

Mr. McLaughlin carries a large caseload on a regular basis of guardianship and conservatorship court cases. Nevertheless, he believes that these proceedings should be avoided whenever possible due to the expense and hassle of initiating and maintaining them, and that they only should be done as a last resort when necessary to achieve a specific protective objective. He tells his clients that a guardianship and/or conservatorship is merely a tool to get the client where he wants to go, i.e. to achieve a health or financial care objective for the incapacitated person.

Mr. McLaughlin has extensive experience in handling these cases, and his paralegals and legal assistants do as well. As is the case with probate and trust administration, these cases are very paralegal driven, although court appearances by Mr. McLaughlin are necessary, and his involvement becomes extensive if the matter becomes contested. He has through the years handled many contested guardianship and conservatorship cases.

Mr. McLaughlin has lectured to attorneys, and other professionals and members of the public frequently as well on the topics of guardianship and conservatorship. He has also served as the court appointed attorney for incapacitated persons on many occasions in the past and currently represents a few of them still.

If someone has been physically abused or neglected with respect to his health care treatment in a health care facility, including a hospital, nursing home, or care home, or otherwise, and a loved one wants to file a law suit for damages, Mr. McLaughlin will work in tandem with an attorney who exclusively works in these kinds of cases. These matters are handled on a contingency fee basis meaning that the client does not have to pay any attorney’s fees unless and until there is a recovery, at which time the attorney is paid a percentage of the recovery based on a prior written fee agreement between the client and the attorney. There is no additional charge for having two attorneys on a client’s case because Mr. McLaughlin is paid a percentage of the elder abuse or medical malpractice attorney’s standard percentage fee (usually between a third and forty percent of the recovery). Mr. McLaughlin has been involved in a number of cases over the years where the client received in the hundreds of thousand dollars for their claim.

Financial exploitation of vulnerable adults has become a crisis in Arizona and is rampant. Unfortunately, Mr. McLaughlin has had to deal with many cases where significant exploitation has occurred. Mr. McLaughlin assists his clients in stopping the exploitation, and where possible, in seeking recovery of stolen funds or other assets, although more frequently than not, the funds have already been spent.

Mr. McLaughlin has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology, and took a course in Law and Psychiatry in law school, took an interest in mental health law as a result, and has practiced in the field of mental health law for more than three decades. He formerly worked in the Arizona Attorney General’s Office early in his career, where his sole job was to represent the Arizona State Hospital. While there, among other things, he represented the State Hospital in civil commitment cases in court. After that he was hired as medical legal attorney for the Samaritan Health System in Phoenix in the Risk Management Department and part of his job was to advise the Camelback psychiatric hospitals on a variety of mental health issues. He subsequently continued to work in the mental health field while under the employ of Charles Arnold, who is in Mr. McLaughlin’s opinion the pre-eminent attorney in Arizona in the field of mental health law, doing advocacy for the mentally ill and their families, including in involuntary civil commitment cases as well as mental health guardianship cases. Since being in private practice for a little less than three decades Mr. McLaughlin estimates that he has represented his clients in fifty or more mental health guardianship cases, and in numerous civil commitment matters.

While representing the State Hospital, Mr. McLaughlin also handled release hearings on behalf of the hospital before the court or Psychiatric Review Board for patients seeking release from the hospital after being committed to the hospital as a result of being found not guilty by reason of insanity or guilty except insane. After leaving the Attorney Generals Office, Mr. McLaughlin has represented many patients at the hospital who are seeking release after having been criminally committed and usually has at least one client at any given time that he represents in such matters.

Mr. McLaughlin takes a special interest in this area of the law. He is a former medical legal attorney for a hospital system and has served on two different hospice ethics committees. He is a former member of the Prescott Community Partnership for Comfort Care, and regularly teaches on the topic of end of life planning. He was the former chair of the Arizona State Bar’s ad hoc Patient Self Determination Act Committee as well. He believes that his individually crafted and constantly improved Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will form is one of, if not the best, available anywhere.

In addition to many years of private practice in elder law, his past legal experience includes criminal defense and prosecution, representation of the Arizona State Hospital as an Assistant Attorney General, and serving as a medical/legal attorney in the Risk Management Department for Samaritan Health Services in Phoenix. Mr. McLaughlin’s past and present professional associations include:

  • Former member and Treasurer of the Elder Law, Mental Health and Special Needs Planning Section of the Arizona State Bar
  • Member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys since 1992: former member of Public Policy Committee
  • Arizona Chapter of National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys: Current member; former president and vice president; Chapter member of the year for 1996 and 2006; member of public policy committee and former chair
  • Greater Phoenix Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association: Former board member and secretary; former member and chair of the public policy committee; board member of the year for 1998; former volunteer of the month
  • Southwest Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association: former board member; former member of public policy committee
  • Alzheimer’s Advisory Committee to the Governor’s Council on Aging: former chair
  • Governor’s Council on Aging: former member
  • Prescott Estate Planning Council: current member
  • Prescott Elder Abuse Council: former member
  • Prescott Community Partnership for Comfort Care: former board member
  • Prescott Meals on Wheels: former board member
  • Prescott Area Boys to Men: board president
  • Arizona Medicaid Planning Council: current member
  • Arizona State Bar Probate and Trust Section: current member
  • Special Needs Alliance: former member
  • Former Member of Hospice of the Valley and Thunderbird Samaritan Hospital Ethics Committees