Mary Schmitt Smith, Elder Law and SNT Expert, Dies

Mary Schmitt-Smith, courtesy of Lipson Nielson.Mary T. Schmitt Smith died unexpectedly on March 9, 2023, following a short illness. She was 69 years old.

Born in Detroit, Michigan, Schmitt-Smith was an attorney and expert in estate planning, elder law, and special needs planning, as well as one of the original investors in ElderLawAnswers more than 20 years ago.

The first certified elder law attorney in the state of Michigan, Schmitt Smith began her career as a law clerk at the Oakland County Court before going into private practice in 2005, establishing the Theresa Law Center, PC, which specialized in estate planning, elder law, disability law, and special needs trusts. Theresa Law Center merged with the firm Lipson Nielson PC (now Lipson Nielson Cole Seltzer & Garin PC) in 2014, where she had since been a partner.

In fact, Schmitt Smith was the creator of the concept behind what ultimately came to be known as the (d)(4)(a) trust. According to Lipson Neilson, she “persuaded judges in more than 27 counties throughout Michigan to approve these special needs trusts to protect assets of individuals with disabilities.” These SNTs were later adopted into federal law.

She had presented on special needs trusts, estate planning, and more at conferences and law schools nationwide; was featured in various podcasts; and was honored for her work by multiple organizations over the course of her career.

In 2003, Schmitt Smith received the national Theresa Foundation Award in recognition of her outstanding efforts and advocacy for individuals with disabilities. She also was named the 2011 EP Maxwell J. Schleifer Distinguished Service Award honoree for her commitment to the disability community. In addition, she had been recognized by Super Lawyers since 2009 and Martindale-Hubbell since 2000.

A fellow of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) and one of its former board members, Schmitt Smith was also a founding member and former president of the Special Needs Alliance; a past president and board member of the Arc of Oakland County, Inc.; and a member of the ElderCounsel Advisory Board.

Schmitt Smith earned her Bachelor of Science degree in 1976 from Eastern Michigan University, where she played basketball and served as student body president. She went on to complete her JD at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law in 1979 and her Master of Laws in taxation, with a concentration in estate planning for people with disabilities, at Wayne State University in 1986.

She leaves behind her husband, three children, one grandchild, and eight siblings.

Visit Schmitt Smith’s obituary on

Photo courtesy of Lipson Nielson, PC.