Planning for loved ones with disabilities involves unique challenges and complexities, and requires the knowledge and experience of attorneys who understand their needs. Our Special Needs Planning team works closely with individuals and families to provide guidance, education, advocacy and solutions to help clients better manage major life transitions — from the birth of a child with special needs and their coming-of-age milestones, to the aging and death of caregiver parents. We advocate for individuals to protect their rights, and we advise guardians, conservators and trustees to properly carry out their fiduciary responsibilities.
- Comprehensive estate planning, including planning with special needs trusts
- Supported decision-making planning for individuals to encourage independence and self-advocacy
- Representation in guardianship and conservatorship proceedings
- Advice regarding administration of special needs trusts for individual, professional, and corporate trustees
- Probate proceedings for trust reformation, trustee appointment or removal, and allowance of trustees’ accounts
- Non-judicial settlement agreements to resolve issues involving special needs trusts
- Public-benefits counseling
- Real estate law for community-living arrangements
- Caregiver-service contracts
- Long-term care planning for caregiver parents
- Consultation for personal-injury settlements
- Consultation in family law involving spouses and children with disabilities regarding alimony, child support, and division of marital assets
Creative Community Living
For years, Susan thought about what her daughter, Emily’s life would be like after she aged out of special education services. The experience with Emily’s residential school convinced Susan of what she did not want for her daughter, but it was difficult to envision what was possible. Vaguely Susan pictured Emily living in a beautiful home-like environment with caring people. Years of advocating for her daughter taught Susan that if what she wanted for Emily did not exist, she couldn’t wait for it to happen.
Through careful research and exploration over two years, Susan identified an idyllic town with a bustling Main Street and enlisted a real estate agent. When a suitable property became available, she financed the purchase of a multi-family home with her savings, help from relatives, and collaboration with a nonprofit corporation. Then she advertised to recruit house mates who would be compatible with Emily and willing to provide support and supervision. The undertaking and its timing was no small feat. Susan’s extraordinary vision and faith, with our legal team’s technical support, led to creating a suitable community living arrangement for her daughter. With the help of a companion Emily walks to the local library and park and does her weekly shopping on Main Street, where business owners and employees are getting to know her as a new neighbor and regular customer. Susan now helps other families accomplish similar solutions for their loved ones.
Fixing a Defective Trust
Mike had a promising career as a computer programmer until he became disabled with severe depression and anxiety that forced him to stop working. Due to his disability, Mike receives SSI, SSDI, MassHealth, Medicare, and a Section 8 housing voucher. When his older sister passed away, Mike learned that she had created a trust for him. Unfortunately, the trust was not drafted or funded properly and he stood to lose some of his critical benefits. Through Internet research he learned about our services and sought help. We successfully represented Mike in probate court to reform the defectively drafted trust to ensure his public benefits would be preserved. The court also approved the removal of his cousin who was named as trustee on the grounds that she was unsuitable due to a history of blaming Mike for his disability. The trust is now administered by a nonprofit corporate trustee with experience administering special needs trusts for beneficiaries like Mike who live with mental-health conditions.
Advocating for a Sibling with Special Needs
Amanda and Helen lost their mother to a tragic accident. Grief stricken, they faced the daunting responsibility of settling their mother’s estate and were surprised to learn that she had set up a special needs trust for their brother, George.
Suddenly thrust into roles for which they were unprepared (personal representatives of their mother’s estate, trustees of George’s trust, and his guardians and caregivers), Amanda and Helen also had to navigate the rules of the various government agencies that administered benefits George received (MassHealth, Social Security Administration, HUD, Department of Developmental Services). Carrying out these duties was emotionally taxing and quite stressful.
We worked closely with Amanda and Helen during this difficult year to settle their mother’s estate, administer the special needs trust, and help George transition into a new life without their mother. Through these challenges, the three siblings grew closer and stronger. Their mother would be proud.
Planning for Two Generations
Joan and Monique knew they needed an estate plan and that theirs would be complicated. Joan’s daughter, Samantha, from her former marriage, had Autism Spectrum disorder and was nonverbal. Joan was much older than Monique and she worried about the day when she would no longer be able to care for Samantha. Monique also worried about who would care for her when she grew old, especially because she was estranged from her extended family. Her Parkinson’s disease was manageable, but she would eventually lose her independence. Joan and Monique wondered whether they should get married legally but didn’t know how to make that decision.
We knew from the start that planning for Joan and Monique was intricately tied to planning for Samantha’s future. We conferred with the clients’ financial advisor and accountant and presented them with options, including the advantages and disadvantages of legal marriage given their unique situation. The education and guidance helped Joan and Monique decide that they were better off financially if they remained legally unmarried (though they would always be married spiritually). They developed a new budget, a financial plan to address their long-term care needs, and established two different types of special needs trust for Samantha. Completing their estate plan helped Joan and Monique feel more secure about their life together and better prepared for Samantha’s future.