Law Firm Profile
Law Firm Profile
The Law Office of Donald D. Vanarelli is committed to helping New Jersey seniors and the disabled receive quality long-term care, while preserving assets for family and others. We strive to provide effective legal representation and obtain positive results for our clients through careful legal review and analysis, quality work, and timely and efficient service. Our attorneys combine vigorous advocacy with the exercise of thoughtful and discerning judgment. We assist clients and families in conflict through dispute resolution services, including litigation; estate, probate and elder mediation; divorce mediation; and, collaborative law services. We also educate other professionals and our client community through publications and seminars.
The Law Office of Donald D. Vanarelli, with offices in Westfield, NJ, provides a broad range of legal services for the elderly, the disabled and their families. We successfully guide our clients through the complex areas of estate, trust and tax laws, public benefits laws, and court procedures. Our attorneys offer services of the highest professional standards in the following areas of practice:
Principal Attorney in Precedent-Setting Special Needs Trust Case Decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court
Mr. Vanarelli represented the plaintiff in a pivotal special needs trust case decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court entitled Saccone v. Police and Firemen’s Retirement System, 219 N.J. 369 (2014). In the Saccone case, plaintiff, a retired firefighter had a severely disabled adult child who received Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid, public benefits based on financial need. After he retired, the fireman attempted to structure his estate plan to provide for his disabled child after his death without jeopardizing the child’s eligibility for needs-based public benefits by executing a Last Will and Testament containing a testamentary special needs trust (“SNT”). Plaintiff then asked the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (“PFRS”) to pay the survivor benefits to which his child would be entitled upon the fireman’s death to the testamentary SNT established under the fireman’s will. The PFRS denied the request based on a pension statute which prohibited a retiree from designating a primary or a contingent beneficiary for the receipt of the retiree’s pension death benefits in the event of the retiree’s death. This decision was repeatedly upheld on appeal until the case was considered by the New Jersey Supreme Court. The Court ruled, for the first time, that a disabled child of a retired public employee may have his survivors’ benefits paid into a special needs trust rather than directly to the child, thereby allowing the child to maintain eligibility for Medicaid and other public benefits based on financial need.
Principal Attorney in Key New Jersey Supreme Court Guardianship Case
Mr. Vanarelli represented the plaintiff in a seminal estate planning / guardianship case entitled In re Keri, 181 N.J. 50 (2004). In Keri, an adult child sought guardianship of his mother and her estate, and proposed to gift some of her assets to himself and his brother so that his mother could qualify for Medicaid while in a nursing home. Reversing lower court decisions, the state Supreme Court ruled, for the first time, that a parent’s assets could be transferred to the children as part of an estate plan to help the parent qualify for government nursing home benefits. This ruling was characterized by the Star-Ledger newspaper as having “broad implications for those with elderly relatives suffering from Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia…”.
Counsel in a Significant Federal Class Action Lawsuit Holding that VA Pension Benefits May Not Be Counted as Income by Medicaid
Mr. Vanarelli was co-counsel representing plaintiff Alma Galletta and the putative class plaintiffs in Galletta v. Velez, Civil No. 13-532 (D.N.J. June 3, 2014). In the Galletta case. a federal district judge in New Jersey ruled, for the first time, that a pension from the Department of Veterans Affairs may not be counted as income in determining eligibility for any Medicaid program. This was a a significant victory for Medicaid applicants and recipients in New Jersey who receive pension benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Recipient, Lifetime Achievement Award, by New Jersey State Bar Association’s Elder and Disability Law Section
Mr. Vanarelli received the Marilyn Askin Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Elder and Disability Law Section. The Lifetime Achievement Award, the Elder and Disability Law Section’s highest honor, is bestowed on an attorney with an established history of distinguished service who has made significant contributions in the field of elder and disability law throughout his or her career. The Lifetime Achievement Award recognized Mr. Vanarelli’s advocacy in elder and disability law, including a number of precedent-setting legal victories which advanced the rights of seniors and persons with disabilities.
Certified Elder Law Attorney
Mr. Vanarelli has been board-certified as an elder law attorney since 1998. Elder law is the legal practice of representing older or disabled persons and their representatives in financing long-term medical care, nursing home issues, qualifying for Medicare, Medicaid and other public benefits, estate planning, trust administration, probate, retirement benefit disputes and guardianships.
Elder law is a legal specialty which has been formally recognized by New Jersey’s Supreme Court through the ABA’s accreditation program. To be certified in elder law, an attorney must have practiced elder law for at least five years, had substantive involvement in the practice areas that make up elder law, passed a full day written exam, and received references from five attorneys. Only about 50 attorneys in New Jersey have attained the level of expertise required to be Board-certified as elder law attorneys.
Highest Rated for Legal Ability and Ethical Standards
Mr. Vanarelli has received an “AV” rating from the Martindale-Hubbell rating system, an independent service which has rated attorneys nationwide for more than a century. An “AV” rating is the highest available, meaning that the lawyer is recognized by his peers as having achieved very high to preeminent legal ability and very high ethical conduct relevant to the discharge of professional responsibilities. Only about 20% of all lawyers who have been rated have achieved an “AV” rating.
Selected as a New Jersey Super Lawyer
Donald D. Vanarelli was named to the New Jersey Super Lawyer list in years 2007–present. An independent firm conducted the polling, research and selection of Super Lawyers in a process designed to identify NJ lawyers who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. Only the top 5% of New Jersey lawyers are named Super Lawyers.
Accredited Veterans Attorney
Mr. Vanarelli has been accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) to prepare, present and prosecute claims for veterans before the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA’s purpose in requiring attorney accreditation is to ensure that claimants for VA benefits receive “qualified assistance in preparing and presenting their claims.” To receive accreditation, an attorney must pass a written examination and complete continuing legal education covering the following topics: disability compensation, dependency and indemnity compensation, pension benefits, claim procedures, eligibility requirements, and appeal rights. An attorney must also establish that he or she is of good character and reputation.
Founding Member, Academy of Special Needs Planners
Mr. Vanarelli is a founding member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners (ASNP). The mission of the ASNP is to maintain a professional organization of attorneys skilled in the complex areas of public entitlements, estate, trust and tax planning, and the legal issues involving individuals with physical and cognitive disabilities. ASNP members are some of the most highly credentialed attorneys in the country, dedicated to providing the highest quality service and advice in the practice of disability and public benefits law. Members of the ASNP devote a significant part of their practices to helping individuals with special needs and their families plan for the future.
NAELA’s Council of Advanced Practitioners
Mr. Vanarelli is a founding member of the Council of Advanced Practitioners (CAP) of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). CAP is comprised of premier attorneys, representing the most credentialed and talented Elder Law attorneys in the country. CAP panelists must be members of NAELA for at least 10 years, Certified Elder Law Attorneys, and “AV” rated by Martindale-Hubbell.
Accredited as a Professional Mediator
Mr. Vanarelli is an Accredited Professional Mediator (APM), a designation awarded by the New Jersey Association of Professional Mediators. The APM designation is awarded to those mediators who have attained a high level of education and experience in mediation. Mr. Vanarelli is also approved under the New Jersey Court Rules as a mediator in family and divorce matters, and civil, equity and probate litigation. He is on the Administrative Office of the Courts’ roster of mediators for civil cases, and for the mediation of the economic aspects of family law cases. He was also selected to participate on the Union County Probate Early Settlement Panel, comprised of experienced estate practitioners who assist the court by mediating contested probate, estate and guardianship cases, as well as pending will contests.
Founder, Elder Mediation Center of New Jersey
Mr. Vanarelli is a founder of the Elder Mediation Center of New Jersey (EMCNJ), a collaborative alliance comprised of independent mediators, attorneys, geriatric care managers and other eldercare professionals. The EMCNJ provides efficient, knowledgeable, and affordable alternative dispute resolution services designed to resolve the conflicts of elders, individuals living with a disability, their families and others. Mediators at the EMCNJ can facilitate a variety of family conflicts common to elder mediation, including disputes among adult siblings about parents; housing arrangements; caregiving disputes; healthcare decision-making; estate planning matters; guardianship issues; family wealth issues and inheritance disputes.
Trained as a Collaborative Law Professional
Mr. Vanarelli is a trained collaborative law professional. The practice of collaborative family law demands unique skills from lawyers–skills in guiding negotiations, in managing conflict and in interest-based negotiations. The collaborative law practice offers clients the support and guidance of their own lawyers, without going to court, along with various specialists, coaches and other professionals, all working together as a team for the client. As a collaborative law attorney, Mr. Vanarelli serves his clients as an educator and guide through the collaborative law process.
Certified as National Certified Guardian
Mr. Vanarelli is certified as a National Certified Guardian by the Center for Guardian Certification. Certification is the process used to identify persons who have achieved the requisite level of knowledge, skill, experience, and understanding of the ethical principles, to act as professional guardians.