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March 14, 2022

The Commission on Law and Aging Welcomes a New Staff Attorney, Erica Costello

Inside The Commission

The PDF in which this article appears can be found in Bifocal Vol. 43 Issue 4.

Tell us a little bit about your career and the issues you’ve been working on for the past few years.

Certainly!  My legal career started in 2005 when I became the Director of Adult Protective Services (APS) for the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office in South Bend, Indiana.  Over the next eight years, I managed this APS unit, serving four counties in Northern Indiana, and oversaw investigations into more than 11,000 alleged cases of elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation.  During this time, I also taught several classes to undergraduate and paralegal students at Indiana University-South Bend on “Estate Planning and Probate Administration” and “Introduction to Law.”

In January of 2014, I took a position with the Indiana Supreme Court in Indianapolis and became the organization’s first Adult Guardianship Attorney. In this position, I worked with judges and stakeholders on the development of volunteer-based adult guardianship programs and saw tremendous growth and progress in this area over the next eight years.  When I first started, we provided funding to 8 volunteer-based guardianship programs serving in 14 counties.  Indiana now has 20 volunteer-based guardianship programs providing services to 52 counties and over 800 vulnerable and incapacitated adults!  I also managed several state and federal grant projects relating to guardianship reform and elder abuse, including the Indiana Project on Abuse in Later Life (INPALL), the Southern Indiana Project on Abuse in Later Life (SINPALL), the Working Interdisciplinary Network of Guardianship Stakeholders (WINGS) grant project, and the Conservatorship Accountability Project (CAP). 

My experiences at APS and the Indiana Supreme Court have helped me recognize and understand the needs of the aging population and have made me very passionate about strengthening and improving the quality of life for vulnerable and older adults.  

Is this what you planned when you started Law School?

Not exactly.  I always knew that I wanted to help people and work in the area of public service, but I didn’t have a specific plan to do so.  That’s where I think my legal internships became very important.  Through my internships in law school, I worked in the area of domestic violence and served survivors of domestic violence and battered immigrants seeking legal status.  These experiences eventually led to my interest in working with older victims of abuse.

I’m a big proponent of having law students experience as many legal fields as possible.  We didn’t have an elder law clinic at our law school.  But, given the number of older adults that will need legal services in the future, it would be great to see more law schools offering clinics for older adults and opportunities for law students to learn about elder law. 

What has been the highlight of your career?

So far, the highlight of my career has been receiving the Judge Isabella Horton Grant Guardianship Award from the National College of Probate Judges (NCPJ) in recognition of my leadership on projects and on improvements in the laws, administration, or practices in the guardianship field.  It was an honor and privilege to accept this award along with past recipients whom I have long admired and respected. 

What interested you about this position with the Commission on Law and Aging?

Great question!  I was interested in this position for several reasons.  First, the position works directly in the areas I am most passionate about, particularly adult guardianship, elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation, supported decision-making, and access to courts.  I also worked with former attorneys with the Commission, including Erica Wood, Lori Stiegel, and Dari Pogach, who provided excellent knowledge, guidance, and support on the WINGS grant project, and wanted to help other projects and initiatives in a similar capacity. Finally, I was interested in working on guardianship reform policies and projects at the national level.  Though we have come a long way in guardianship reform efforts, there is still a lot of work left to be done to improve our nation’s guardianship systems and practices!  

What project(s) are you most excited about getting into?

Right now, I’m really excited to be working on Maryland’s “Hospital to Guardianship” Pipeline Project.  Especially because I have personally seen so many cases referred by hospitals for guardianship when a patient needed to be discharged to a nursing facility or other residential setting.  It’ll be great to see if we can redirect this pipeline by creating a working model that reduces the need for guardianship and provides for less restrictive alternatives to be considered by hospitals first.  I’m also excited to be working on future presentations for the National Center on Law and Elder Rights (NCLER) and writing a chapter on “elder abuse” for an upcoming international publication.   

Outside of work, are there any other hobbies or interests that you are passionate about that you’d like to share with us?

Absolutely! I love to read, travel, and spend time with my parents and dog, Atticus.  In the past, I have gone on two pilgrimages with my church to Rome and the Holy Land.  I have traveled with my father throughout Europe and our family has visited many historic sites in the United States.  I’m also a member of the Faith Formation committee at my church and an officer with the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), Samuel Bryan Chapter.  Additionally, I enjoy indoor cycling and will soon be completing my 500th ride at my local cycling studio!