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Preparing a Letter of Intent For Your Child With Special Needs

August 9th, 2017

By Amy C. O’Hara, CELA, Partner

No one else knows your child as well as you do, and no one ever could. You are a walking encyclopedia of your child’s history, experiences, habits, and wishes. If your child has special needs, the family’s history adds a helpful chapter to your child’s book, one detailing his unique medical, behavioral and educational requirements.

What would happen if you suddenly became unable to provide your child with the necessary supports he needs? Without you, your child would become dependent on other caregivers who simply do not possess all of your personal knowledge and insight. However, there are steps you can take now to minimize the natural disruption and disorientation that will occur upon your death or if you become unable to care for your child during your lifetime.

Littman Krooks Special Needs PlanningFirst and foremost, you should put into place supported decision making for your child to assist with personal financial and medical decisions.  Depending on your child’s functioning, this is accomplished by either appointing a legal guardian through a court proceeding or having your child execute a power of attorney and health care proxy.

Second, you should prepare a letter of intent to help loved ones and your child manage a difficult transition when you no longer are the primary caregiver. A letter of intent is an important planning tool for parents of children with special needs (including adult children), and also may be useful when planning for minor children who are not  expected to face special challenges.

Although a letter of intent can be considered one of the most important estate planning documents a parent can prepare, it is not a formal legal document that must be created by an attorney. The goal of a letter of intent is to memorialize your knowledge of your child’s needs so that you may guide future caregivers, guardians and trustees in providing the best possible care to your child. Simply put, a thoughtful letter of intent ensures that those who come after you need not waste precious time figuring out the best way to manage and care for your child.

At minimum, the letter can address the following points regarding your child: family history, daily schedule; food likes and dislikes, medical care, education, government benefits received, employment, residential environment, social environment, religious preferences, behavior management, and funeral arrangements.

Once you prepare, sign and date the letter of intent, you should review the document annually and update it as necessary. It is important that you let your child’s potential future caregiver know the letter of intent exists and where it can be accessed; even better, you can review the document with the caregiver on an annual basis. The letter of intent should be placed with all of your other relevant legal and personal documents concerning your child.

The letter of intent can be a difficult and extremely emotional document to write, as you are envisioning a time when your child is navigating this world without you. However, once it is completed, the first important step has been taken toward creating a detailed road map for future caregivers and trustees. As a parent you also may be relieved to know that you are ensuring the highest quality of life for your child by laying the foundation for as seamless a transition as possible after you are gone.

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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Job Training for People with Disabilities is Available from ACCES-VR

July 3rd, 2017

Individuals with disabilities who need help with vocational rehabilitation or support for independent living should be aware of Adult Career and Continuing Education Services-Vocational Rehabilitation (ACCES-VR).

ACCES-VR helps people with disabilities gain and keep employment, and assists with support for independent living, through rehabilitation, training, education and career development. Funding for some services is based on financial need, and most services are provided at no cost.

The program provides vocational rehabilitation services that include assessments and evaluations, vocational counseling and guidance, special transportation, rehabilitation technology, work readiness, adaptive driver training, tutoring, reading and note taking services, modifications to homes or worksites, job development and placement, on the job training, and job coaching.

In addition to vocational rehabilitation services, transition services are available to young people who are finishing school and seeking work or higher education. ACCES-VR works closely with school districts to help youth with disabilities prepare for transition and employment, community living, or post-secondary education. The Youth Employment Services (YES) program helps students transition to the world of work, and provides a schedule of services that accommodate the school day and academic calendar as necessary.

ACCES-VR district offices are located in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, White Plains and other locations, where applications for services are available. The best way to get started with the program is to attend an orientation session. To learn more, visit http://www.acces.nysed.gov/vr.

 

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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House Passage of American Health Care Act Requires Monitoring, Attention and Advocacy

May 5th, 2017

By Marion M. Walsh, Esq.

The United States House of Representatives, by a vote of 217 to 213, on May 4, 2017, approved legislation—called the American Health Care Act–to repeal aspects of the Affordable Care Act and replace them.   The House bill must still pass the Senate to become law.  If approved, the new legislation will impact every American citizen, particularly those who have not had insurance before, those who have pre-existing conditions and those who rely on Medicaid.  According to The New York Times, the House bill would eliminate tax penalties for people who go without health insurance. The bill would roll back state-by-state expansions of Medicaid, which covers millions of low-income Americans.  The Congressional Budget Office estimated  that the bill would cut Medicaid spending by $880 billion.  School districts will face cuts in funding and children with disabilities could receive less services.

We will keep you apprised on important developments and the changes in law will have a significant impact on vulnerable adults and children with disabilities.

 

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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April is Autism Awareness Month

April 14th, 2017

Advocates for people with autism are marking Autism Awareness Month in many ways throughout the month of April.

Littman Krooks Special Education AdvocacyBuildings and landmarks around the world were illuminated in blue light April 2 for World Autism Awareness Day, recognized by the United Nations since 2007. The Light It Up Blue campaign is sponsored by the nonprofit organization Autism Speaks. The White House, Rockefeller Center, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Empire State Building were all bathed in blue light to raise consciousness of autism spectrum disorder, which affects one in 68 children.

The PBS children’s program Sesame Street added a new character in April: a Muppet named Julia, who has autism. The show’s online Digital Storybook series has featured Julia since 2015, but she is now making her television debut. Sesame Street producers met with groups that serve people with autism to learn which issues would be best to focus on. In the first episode featuring the red-haired Julia, she is hesitant to shake Big Bird’s hand. Big Bird is afraid Julia does not like him, but Elmo explains that Julia “does things a little differently” because she has autism. The episode also portrays Julia’s excitability during a game and her sensitivity to loud noises. Stacey Gordon, the puppeteer behind Julia, has a son with autism. She said that she hopes children who watch the show will learn that kids with autism play differently, “and that that’s okay.”

Advocates said that increasing understanding and acceptance of people with autism and their families is essential, but raising awareness is only the first step. Although great advances have been made in research and interventions, children and adults with autism need meaningful assistance, and the programs that help them need strong funding support.

 

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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Tax Deductions & Credits for Special Needs Families

March 10th, 2017

By Amy C. O’Hara, Esq., Littman Krooks LLP

Parents of children with special needs often have unique financial concerns, and one way to ease those concerns is to reduce their tax burden.

There are many tax deductions and credits available that parents may not be aware of. Parents of children with special needs should familiarize themselves with the deductions and credits and take care to document all expenses related to their children’s medical expenses, development and therapy.

Here are 5 useful tax deductions and credits for parents of children with special needs:

Littman Krooks Special Needs Planning

1. Medical & Therapy Expenses

The first type of deduction to consider is for medical and therapy expenses. For income tax purposes, learning disabilities are a type of medical condition. This may include autism, ADHD, cerebral palsy, and other learning disabilities.

While these expenses are limited by 10 percent of adjusted gross income, the limitation may be exceeded by certain types of out-of-pocket expenses.

Such expenses can include the following:

  • Special schooling such as: tutoring that is specifically intended to address the special needs of the child.
  • Regular education when it is intended to treat the child’s special needs.
  • Aides that a child may require to benefit from education.
  • Exercise programs, if they are recommended by a medical professional.
  • Transportation to and from special schools or therapy sessions.
  • Equipment, devices and supplies necessary to treat or alleviate a medical condition, including technology items such as communication devices.

2. Specialized Foods

A gluten-free, casein-free diet can be used as a deduction provided it is medically recommended. Generally, only the additional cost of the specialized foods over and above what would be paid for similar items is deductible.

3. Legal Expenses

In some cases, legal expenses related to your child’s special needs may be deductible, for instance if you hire an attorney to help you prove that your child’s medical expenses are legitimate.

Tax Credits

Even more helpful than a tax deduction is a tax credit, which applies directly to the amount of tax you owe. The tax credits most helpful to parents of special needs children are the Child and Dependent Care Credit and the Earned Income Credit. In both cases, a credit that is normally only available for children may also be used for an older child with special needs.

4. Child and Dependent Care Credit

The Child and Dependent Care Credit may be applied when you pay someone to care for your dependent, and it provides a tax credit of up to $3,000 per dependent, to a maximum of $6,000 for two or more dependents.  Child-care, after-school programs and day camp qualify for the credit.

The credit is available for children under the age of 13, but the age limit does not apply to older children with special needs.

5. Earned Income Credit

The Earned Income Credit can also be useful for parents of children with special needs. The credit generally may be applied by families with a low to moderate income and children under the age of 19, or up to age 23 for full-time students. However, for adult children living with their parents, the age limit does not apply.

In Conclusion

Parents of children with special needs know that there are unique challenges involved, including financial hurdles. However, with careful planning and the assistance of an experienced attorney who is sensitive to special needs issues, you can make sure you do what is necessary to reduce your tax burden and protect your child’s interests.

 

Learn more about Littman Krooks services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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Housing Assistance for People with Disabilities

November 22nd, 2016

Finding affordable housing can be difficult for people with disabilities, who may have special housing needs or limited funds. However, there are a number of resources available to help:

Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York

The Center for Independence of the Disabled (CID-NY) is a primary resource. In addition to providing individuals with referrals and resources related to affordable and accessible housing, CID-NY  can provide assistance with applying for disability related programs. The phone number for the main intake line is 646-442-4186.

Medicaid Waiver Program

The Medicaid Waiver Program provides help for individuals who need managed long-term care to find housing in the community and the home services they need. In addition to housing, the program provides services such as meals and home care. For more information, contact the Regional Resource Development Center at 718-816-3555.

Home of Your Own Program

Pretty asian girl using her smartphone on the couch at home in tThe Home of Your Own Program is a project of the New York Office of People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) to help individuals with developmental disabilities, their families who are income-eligible, and direct support professionals to find a home of their choice. The program and its network of partners provide counseling and resources for home ownership and other independent residential opportunities. Contact OPWDD at 518-473-1973.

Rent Freeze Program

New York City tenants with disabilities may qualify for the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) program. Eligible people with disabilities living in rent-stabilized, rent-controlled, Mitchell-Lama and other eligible apartments can have their rent frozen and receive an exemption from future rent increases. Their landlords are provided with tax credits to make up the difference.

Affordable Housing Lotteries

In New York City, affordable housing lotteries are held for renovated or newly constructed buildings with subsidized apartments. Usually, 2 percent of the units in a development are set aside for people with visual and hearing disabilities, and 5 percent are set aside for people with mobility impairments. Call NYC Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) at 212-863-7990.

 

Learn more about our services in special needs planning, special education advocacy, estate planning and elder law.

 

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Workshop on Childhood Trauma Provides Insightful Information for Parents and School Personnel

October 31st, 2016

By Marion M. Walsh, Esq., Littman Krooks LLP

littman-krooks-trauma-workshopOn October 27, 2016, a committed group of parents and educators, on a very stormy evening, attended a workshop on: Development  Mediated by Trauma: How to Recognize and Remediate Adverse Childhood Experiences,  with experts Dr. Boris Gindis, psychologist specializing in trauma and Jennifer Griesbach, a psychotherapist specializing in adoptive children. According to Dr. Gindis, “Trauma is an objectively stressful event that subjectively is experienced by a person as emotional distress, disturbance and suffering.” Traumatic stress, even only unresponsive care, can cause damage to the biochemistry of the brain, he noted. The workshop centered on the understanding of Developmental Trauma Disorder and the need for patience and awareness of the issues.   Ms. Griesbach and Dr. Gindis both recommended therapeutic parenting and specific types of psychotherapy and family counseling to assist children.

Marion Walsh, Esq. from Littman Krooks LLP noted that many schools and parents do not understand the effects of trauma on children and that school districts have an affirmative duty to locate students suspected of having disabilities, including emotional disabilities.  Trauma can lead to emotional and learning disabilities. She spoke about the need for education, training and school services and placements available.

More information will be forthcoming in the future as we learn more about this important topic. Visit our calendar to learn about our upcoming workshops.

Learn about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.specialneedsnewyork.com.

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How Students With Disabilities in New York Are Succeeding

September 17th, 2016

Some special education experts say that New York’s assessment tests, aligned with Common Core standards and intended to improve student achievement, are not producing good outcomes for students with disabilities.

Last year, throughout the state, there were 190 school districts in which no third-grade special education students were proficient on the language arts test. In New York City, only 12 percent of students with disabilities scored “proficient” or higher in math; in English it was 7 percent. Critics say that special education students should not have to take the same exams that are taken by students without disabilities. Last year, 20 percent of all New York students opted out of taking the exams.

school-suppliesOn the other side of this debate are special education advocates who say that setting high standards for students with disabilities encourages them to achieve. These advocates say that with the right supports and services, special education students can score just as well on these exams as their peers without disabilities.

PS 172 in Brooklyn is one school that has improved the performance of its special education students on Common Core exams. At PS 172, 27.6 percent of the students have individualized education programs (IEPs), well above the 18 percent citywide average. The school prides itself on personalized instruction and integration of special education students with the general education classroom. The school uses “push-in” therapists and teachers who come to the general classroom to work with students who need their services, rather than removing the students from class. This helps reduce the stigma of special education and ensures that students do not miss out on the culture of the classroom.

The results at PS 172 speak for themselves. Of the 70 students from grades 3 to 5 tested last year, nearly all were proficient in math, and about 60 percent were proficient in language arts.

 

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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Moving to a New State When You Have a Family Member with a Disability

July 26th, 2016

Moving to another state is a big undertaking for any family, but it can be particularly complicated when a family member has a disability. The secrets to a successful transition are advance planning and a backup plan in case of problems. Here are a few specifics to keep in mind.

Know what to expect with public benefits

If your family member with a disability is receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, there should be no disruption in payments, as long as you inform the Social Security Administration as early as possible of your change of address. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits should not be disrupted either, but the amount could change. In 2016, the federal maximum SSI benefit for an individual is $733 per month. However, some states add an optional state supplement or make food stamps or other benefits available to SSI beneficiaries, so those benefits may vary by state.

Plan in advance for health care needs

Health care is a primary concern, and in this area much can change when moving to another state. In addition to finding new doctors, therapists and other service providers, you should be prepared for changes in coverage. Private health insurance policies may have different coverage or premiums in another state. If you signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act state exchanges, you can take advantage of a 60-day special enrollment period, but be sure to check the eligibility requirements ahead of time. Medicare benefits should not be affected by an interstate move, but Medicaid will need to be reapproved in the new state, and the services and support available through Medicaid varies from state to state.

Special education and other services

While students with disabilities are guaranteed a free and appropriate public education by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a special needs student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) will need to be renegotiated. Other services, such as day care, social programs and in-home services vary greatly from state to state. ABLE Act legislation has not yet been enacted in all 50 states, and special needs trusts should be reviewed by an attorney to ensure that they are up to date and there are no problems created by the move.

Moving to a new state is a big project, but creating a checklist and engaging in advance planning will help you have an organized approach. Even with a detailed plan, it is a good idea to have a backup plan, and an emergency fund, in case of pitfalls along the way.

 

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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Special Education Case Seeks Supreme Court Review

July 8th, 2016

The U.S. Supreme Court is deciding whether to grant review in a case about the degree of educational benefit that a special education student should receive under an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to satisfy the requirements of the Littman Kroooks Special Needs Planning (IDEA). “Clearly, the Supreme Court should hear this important case, as the requirement that a student receive an educational benefit goes to the heart of the IDEA,” says Marion Walsh.  Millions of children around the country certain are entitled to more than “some” educational benefit in public schools and the law should, at a minimum, require meaningful educational benefit.

On May 31, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court asked the Solicitor General to file a brief expressing the views of the United States on this question.

The plaintiffs in the case Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1 note  that currently the “courts of appeal are in disarray” on the matter of what constitutes a “free, appropriate public education,” as required for students with disabilities by IDEA.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled that Endrew F., a Colorado student with autism, received a free, appropriate public education from the Douglas County school district because he received “some educational benefit,” and the court thus rejected reimbursement to the parents for the cost of private school. Reasoning that the IDEA is only “designed to provide a floor” of educational quality,  the hearing officer determined that the school district had provided Drew with a FAPE.  The parents had removed their son from public school after a dispute over the education he received under his IEP in the fifth grade.

In its decision, the appeals court acknowledged that other U.S. courts of appeal have adopted the higher standard of requiring an IEP to deliver a “meaningful educational benefit.” “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit requires this standards and it should be applied uniformly across the country. The standard is still too low,” says Walsh. In requesting review by the Supreme Court, attorneys for Endrew F. argue that the Court should make use of the case to resolve the dispute over this salient issue.

As it has done with many IDEA cases that seem to present an important question, the Supreme Court asked the U.S. Solicitor General to weigh in. The Solicitor General is under no deadline to file the requested brief, and observers say it is unlikely that a response will be filed before the court adjourns for the summer.

 

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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