7 Tips for Choosing a Special Needs Attorney

Meet the team: Amanda, Art, and Jasmin

Meet the team: Amanda, Art, and Jasmin

Special needs families have very pressing requirements. We want you to know that we understand the specific difficulties that families with special needs face. To help guide you through the legal process, we've included 7 tips for choosing a special needs attorney.

Tips for Choosing a Special Needs Attorney

  1. Choose an attorney who is passionate about special needs

  2. Consider a small firm that specializes in special needs

  3. Choose an attorney who is knowledgeable

  4. Choose an attorney who is easily accessible

  5. Choose an attorney that is well-trained and has lots of experience

  6. Choose an attorney for your child who wants to establish an ongoing relationship

  7. Choose an attorney who offers the first consultation free of charge to determine if it's a right fit for both of you

Although we might be located in sunny California, we know that sometimes life gets difficult. We are passionate about understanding the daily struggles that you and your family undergo and we want to help make the legal process a little easier. So please use the helpful tips above for finding the perfect special needs attorney.

A special needs family needs attention in the following areas: education and employment, health and wellness, conservatorships, and special needs trusts. In order to give you a better idea of what each area entails a short summary will be included on each area. For a full discussion on each topic please download our resource guide at www.familieswithspecialneeds.com.

Education and Employment: The effort that you invest into your child’s education is key to not only education but employment and also independent living. It’s extremely important to meet with your child’s teachers at least twice during the school year. In addition, you should set goals for your child’s education. A very informative checklist of transition considerations for middle school and high school is included in our resource guide (link provided below). It’s also important to note that IDEA will give eligible students with disabilities the right to special education services but that’s only applicable until high school graduation. In addition, make sure that your child is engaged in volunteer programs to help social skills and interactions for the working world.

Health and Wellness: Regardless of your child’s level of ability, it’s essential to empower your child with different practical life skills like having a job and doing chores. There are resources available in Los Angeles that offer services such as: family and individual counseling, assessment and diagnosis, and much more. Get connected with the community and take advantage of resources that will help your family.

Conservatorships: In short, a conservatorship is important so that there will be someone in place to sign documents, arrange for care, etc. for your child before his or her 18th birthday; otherwise the child will have to give his consent for vital life decisions that he or she may not be equipped to handle. A “conservator” is appointed by a judge to manage the affairs of another person called the “conservatee.” Most times a parent is appointed but in certain circumstances the court can appoint non-relatives, professionals, or government agencies. There are different types of conservatorships, ways to file, and timing for filing so seek professional advice in time for your child to have a conservatorship in place by their 18th birthday.

Special Needs Trusts: In short, a special needs trust is opened in your child’s name in order to protect your child from losing access to governmental benefits. The creation and filing of a special needs trust can be tricky so enlist the support of an attorney who works with special needs trusts and is knowledgeable about disabilities and the unique situations and issues that need to be addressed.

We invite you to download our resource guide that was written especially for parents of children with special needs who must plan for their children transitioning into adulthood. We also have an app that is downloadable to your cellphone.

So go ahead and visit www.familieswithspecialneeds.com and get a wealth of information in one resource.

If you have any questions feel free to call me,

Art Swerdloff

Dear Special Needs Parent: You're Doing a Good Job

Photo by DenKuvaiev/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by DenKuvaiev/iStock / Getty Images

“You’re doing a good job.”

To many of us, this is a fairly average reassurance, something that goes in one ear and out the other. We’re in a time of bigger, better faster, and all the risks that come along with it. Doing a good job can come across like “good enough.” 

As an estate planning attorney, I often have to guide my clients through complex decisions that squeeze the most out of the available options, so they can continue to live a free and amazing life knowing the most important people in their lives are well protected. 

With assets they’ve worked hard to earn and children they’ve worked hard to provide for and, just doing a “good job” wouldn’t get me very far in my chosen profession. And I’ve spent the last 35 years striving for more for my clients, making sure I was doing everything in my power to make sure they could rest easy.  

But over the Thanksgiving holidays this year, something crossed my computer screen that made me sit back and reflect on those words. 

Tanya and daughter Emily, from "Dear special needs parent, you’re doing a good job" by Whitney Barthel

Tanya and daughter Emily, from "Dear special needs parent, you’re doing a good job" by Whitney Barthel

 

 

 

It was a blog post entitled: 

“Dear special needs parent, you’re doing a good job.”

(Click to follow the link to the original post by Whitney Barthel)

 

 

As some of you know, in addition to “regular” estate planning, I’ve been focusing more and more of my time working with special needs families and the challenges that face them from a legal, estate planning standpoint. Working with these families gives me immense joy as I see the work I do begin to relieve some of the stress and intensity they face day in, day out. 

To these special parents, hearing that they’re doing a good job means their patience has won this week. It means that they haven’t had to hear devastating news from the doctor that there has been a decline since the last visit. It means they’ve been able to entertain guests without the typical back-patting and false condolences. 

From the blog post:

Having a child that has to work one hundred times harder to achieve something that comes easily to another is at times frustrating. That being said, when special children achieve something remarkable (like talking or walking), there is no greater joy in THE WORLD. There are many times I am so proud and my heart is so full that I cry — a lot.
— Whitney Barthel

When you look at all the things that take place in an average day for a parent of a severely disabled child with autism or down syndrome, you’re nothing short of amazed at the hope, determination, wisdom, patience and love these families have for one another, even when they may not think so. 

High costs of care, concern over the right or adequate care, feelings of isolation, anxiety about their child turning 18, and worries of what will happen to them after they die, along with the complicated paperwork associated with that… these are all things that we’d rather not have to worry about on top of the usual challenges that come along with being a parent. 

I was working with a father of a child that was diagnosed with severe autism at 2 years old. The father was a very successful doctor who did his best to provide his son with all the services and care he needed. One of those “no-matter-the-cost” cases. Beyond just the financial load that you would expect for a case like this, this man dedicated an enormous amount of time working with his son every day to overcome the hurdles he faced. Zero speech faculties, lack of motor skills, inability to learn quickly – these problems persisted year after year after that initial diagnosis. You could see the immense sense of responsibility on the father’s face as the years passed. But he kept showing up. 

The child has since graduated high school, gone to college, earned a masters degree, now working on a Ph.D and just recently got married.  A far cry from that 2-year old child that got the diagnosis. 

Of course, this story has an atypical and incredible happy ending, and not every case ends this way. But you can see this love and determination all over the place once you start to look for it in these communities. 

I feel grateful these families have access to resources and organizations that can help them provide their child with the best care available, but sometimes the load can get to be too much. Because of the incredible burden both financially and emotionally that some of these cases have, often the best care results in less than stellar outcomes. Even a father as dedicated as my client can be burnt out by the extreme nature of symptoms his child might be experiencing. 

There is a “good enough” mentality with some of the services that I have done my research on that are in place to support people like my client. “Good enough” does not alleviate the fears and anxieties that is experienced by these people when they consider what may happen when their child is legally considered an adult, but does not have the faculties to take care of themselves. “Good enough” is not a suitable answer when a parent asks themselves if they’ve done everything they can to ensure their child will be taken care of when they pass on. 

It is to help alleviate these anxieties for this remarkable group of people that I have begun focusing more of my practice towards the special needs community. At the other end of the spectrum, adults with aging parents facing Alzheimers or dementia have to deal with similar hurdles. It’s actually sobering to see how close the two groups are in their worries and anxieties, but also in how the family joins together in love and support to face these unique set of challenges together. 

I have a request for you. 

This holiday season, take a moment to reflect on what “good enough” would look and feel like for your livelihood.  What it would look like for your business, your family, your future. 

Now add on the special needs of a child with severe autism, or Down Syndrome, or an aging parent with Parkinson’s or Alzheimers. 

This letter is not intended to depress you – in fact, I want to share the tremendous joy I get out of the work I do helping to ease the fear, anxiety and worry of families experiences these circumstances.

If you know any families with a similar situation, please send them my way. I would love to have a conversation with them. 

Usually, a direct introduction works best; you can also pass along my phone number, which is 310-577-9104. 

Slowing down for a moment to consider the challenges of the special needs family seemed to be a fitting exercise this Thanksgiving, and I’m happy to have the opportunity to re-engage you as a friend and client.  

And I would also love to hear from you. If you’ve made any significant life changes since we last spoke, like you have a new home, a new marriage or child (or grandchild!), please give me a call to see what options you have to protect your precious assets and loved ones. 

Have a wonderful holiday, 

Art Swerdloff