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The Right To Vote For Individuals with Disabilities

March 21st, 2016


The last day to register to vote for the New York Presidential Primary Election (held on Tuesday, April 19) is March 25, 2016. With this date quickly approaching, many parents of adult children with special needs question whether their child will have the opportunity to vote when they turn 18. In the last election cycle, 15.6 million people with disabilities voted, according to a 2013 Research Alliance for Accessible Voting survey report.  Parents who pursue a guardianship on behalf of their child, may wonder if their child will still have the ability to vote if they move forward with a necessary guardianship to assist their child in making decisions, both medical and financial.  Key issues that arise regarding voting are competence, legal guardianship and voter assistance.  While a guardian has authority to protect the interests and rights of the person with the disability and to make decisions on his or her behalf, certain fundamental rights are not taken away from a person with a disability even though a legal guardian has been appointed, if that person is not deemed incompetent.

Littman KrooksN.Y. ELEC. LAW § 5-106(6) states that no person who has been adjudged incompetent may vote in New York. The key word here is incompetent.  New  York’s Article 17A guardianship law is silent as to declaring a person incompetent. Rather, they are determined as a person with a developmental or intellectual disability in need of a guardian. Moreover, Pursuant to N.Y. MENT. HYG. LAW § 33.01, receipt of services for mental disability shall not deprive persons of the right to register and vote if otherwise qualified. It’s important to note there is no legal test for registering and voting but the individual must understand the nature of voting and decisions to be made. Similarly, persons who are not adjudicated incapacitated, but rather consent to being in need of a guardian under New  York Article 81 guardianship law, may also engage in voting so long as they meet the other requirements mandated by the law.

Speak to your child or family member with a disability about their right to vote and be sure to assist in registering in time to allow that person to vote come election day. Deciding if a guardianship is appropriate for your loved one is a difficult process, and there many decisions to be made with respect to the rights of an individual, and how a guardianship will effect those rights, such as voting. The lawyers at Littman Krooks LLP will happily assist you in providing answers to difficult questions with respect to commencing a guardianship proceeding and determining a plan of action that best suits you and your loved one.

(The last day to register to vote for general election should be postmarked by October 14, 2016 and received by October 19, 2016; or handed in-person by October 14, 2016).

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Transferring Guardianship When Moving to a New State

November 6th, 2015

Littman Krooks Special NeedsGuardianship can be an important legal tool to help family members care for a loved one who is unable to make his or her own decisions due to an illness or disability. Guardianship is determined in state court proceedings. However, when moving to another state, the question often arises whether it is necessary to transfer the guardianship to the new state or begin new guardianship proceedings.

The necessary legal action in a particular case depends on your individual circumstances, including the type of guardianship in question, the state you are moving from, and the state you are moving to. You should consult with an experienced elder law attorney or special needs attorney in both the state you are moving from and the state you are moving to, in order to determine what is needed in your case. However, some general information is presented here.

In many cases, transferring the guardianship to the new state will be desirable or even necessary. Facilities such as nursing homes, group homes and assisted living facilities may insist that a guardianship be authorized by the state where they are located. However, in most cases, the process should not be complicated. That is because 44 states, including New York, have adopted the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act (UAGPPJA), which provides that the substantive findings of the original state in a guardianship proceeding be adopted by the new state, streamlining the transfer process.

If you are transferring a guardianship from or to a non-UAGPPJA state, the process can be significantly more complicated. A new guardianship proceeding may be required in the new state, and there may even be a court process required in the original state before moving the ward out of the original state.


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Five Tips on Being a Successful Advocate for Your Child in College

September 14th, 2015

grad_hat_books_cropBy Marion M. Walsh, Esq.

This September, many parents have dropped their children off for the first time at college and are adjusting to a new type of parenting and advocacy.  For all parents, particularly parents of students with disabilities, the transition brings great pride, but also a significant amount of concern and worry. By taking careful steps, you can ensure that you remain an effective advocate in your new capacity.

The transition from youth to adulthood brings important legal changes that all parents must know how to navigate when continuing to advocate for your child.   When your child turns 18, absent a guardianship, he or she becomes an adult and important rights transfer.  Most states, including New York, set the age of majority at 18.  This transfer has significant legal consequences.  Absent a guardianship, which is generally not appropriate for a student attending college, an adult who is not incapacitated has the right to make educational, medical and most other decisions for himself.  So, for example, if your child decides not to seek accommodations for his or her disability, you must respect this right.

This does not mean you have no role in your child’s education, but your child is driving all decisions and you must know what to expect.   Once the student is 18 parents are no longer automatically part of the process or are even apprised of progress, unless the student chooses to include them.

As you move forward for the next year, you must keep in mind these important legal changes, particularly if your child has a disability.

Five Tips for Transitioning to the Advocate of a Young AdultLittman Krooks special needs

  1. Assist Your Child in Advocating, but Do Not Act as the Primary Advocate.

Remember, you are no longer your child’s primary advocate.  The advocacy role must change to your child.  Thus, ensure that your student has all the information he or she needs to access needed accommodations or care. Make sure your student registers with the Office of Disabilities on campus.However, if your student chooses to not disclose a disability or seek accommodations, this represents his or her decision and you can no longer require him or her receive accommodations or services.  You should not call professors to ask for extra help for your child you cannot require your child to be hospitalized, even in a crisis, unless he or she is a danger to himself/herself or others.  Parents act as supporters but are no longer the primary decision makers for your child.

  1. Understand Different Legal Obligations of College.

You must understand the different legal rights of individuals after leaving public school, as an important first step.   As most are aware, if your child has graduated or aged out of special education services,  Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act only protect students from discrimination, but do not require affirmative services.  If your child received special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA),  these services only extend through the school year in which the child turns 21 or graduates  –  whichever comes sooner (although you do still retain parental rights to advocate for past services with your school district).

Significantly, after high school, colleges are no longer required to provide a FAPE.  The post secondary school is only required to provide appropriate academic adjustments as necessary to ensure that it does not discriminate on the basis of disability. The appropriate academic adjustments must be determined based on the student’s disability and individual needs.    Academic adjustments may include auxiliary aids and services, as well as modifications to academic requirements as necessary to ensure equal educational opportunity. In addition, the college does not have to make adjustments that would fundamentally alter the nature of a service, program, or activity, or that would result in an undue financial or administrative burden. A college does not have to provide personal attendants, individually prescribed devices, readers for personal use or study, or other devices or services of a personal nature, such as tutoring and typing.

  1. Ensure that Your Child Signs FERPA and HIPAA Authorizations. 

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) protect privacy and require access to records.  These rights of access and privacy transfer to your student at 18 years of age.    FERPA rights transfer and a college will not send you records upon your request or speak to you unless your child has signed consent or another exception applies.   For example, if you can show the student is financially dependent with a tax return, the college has the obligation to share information with you.  Even with the consent, you will not automatically receive grades and records; you must request such records.  HIPAA rights transfer, and student consent will be required if the parties are seeking medical records from a physician or therapist.

Ensure that your child has signed FERPA and HIPAA waivers so you may obtain records and speak to school or hospital staff.  Make sure that you are familiar with the school’s policy.

  1. Have Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy Signed.

A Power of Attorney gives you the right to act on your child’s behalf in case your child becomes incapacitated.  This form represents an important tool to have when your child is in college and, in particular, if your child is living away from home.   In addition, it is best to have a Health Care Proxy and Advanced Directives signed as soon as possible, so that you can step in and make important medical or legal decisions, if your child becomes incapacitated at college.   Any adult must prepare for the unexpected.  You can talk to an experienced attorney about having your child sign a Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy and Advanced Directives.

  1. Remain an Involved Parent.

The transition to the parent of an adult does not mean that you cannot remain involved in your child’s life. Particularly if you are financially responsible, you have the right as a parent to set expectations and rules for how your child communicates and performs.  Parent weekends represent an important way to connect and you can join a parent networking group.  While it is unreasonable to expect direct communications with your child’s teachers, once you have the FERPA form signed, you may contact a dean about any concerns and ask for an appropriate amount of support or monitoring.


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How Much Does It Cost Appoint a Guardian?

June 2nd, 2015

By Bernard A. Krooks, Esq.

Clients often ask us how much it will cost to get a guardian appointed for a parent or other relative. It is hard to answer with precision, but it is a fair question. Let us see if we can give you some guidance.

First, let’s not forget that you should be doing everything possible to ensure that a guardianship does not become necessary.  What do I mean by that?  Make sure you and your loved ones have executed advance health care and financial directives such as a health care proxy, living will and durable power of attorney.  In addition, you should discuss your wishes with the people you appoint as your agents under these documents.  By taking these steps you will reduce the likelihood that a guardianship will ever become necessary.  Nevertheless, sometimes a guardianship becomes necessary even if you have taken care of your estate planning in advance.  Thus, this article to discuss the fees involved.  Keep in mind that guardianship procedures differ state by state (and sometimes even among different counties in the same state) and we are talking only about downstate New York below. couple_lawyer_blog

Also, we are assuming that there is no wild peculiarity. If you file a guardianship petition as to your mother and your brother hires an attorney to contest the guardianship in any way, then all bets are off as to what the guardianship will cost.  Among other things, your brother may claim that mom does not need a guardian or he may disagree with you as to who the guardian should be.  This is called a contested guardianship and there is no way to predict the total costs involved.  Suffice to say that it will cost much more than an uncontested guardianship proceeding.

And finally, we are only talking about the cost of getting you (or someone) appointed as guardian. You may need legal assistance after the appointment, as well (in fact, you probably will). That will depend on the complexity of your family member’s guardianship — and that can increase for a variety of reasons.

Now that we have gotten all the disclaimers out of the way, here’s a summary of the expected costs:
1.    Court filing fees and process server fees.  Assume about $500 here. Most of that is the filing fee itself, which has to be paid before things get underway.

2.    Your lawyer’s fees. If you hire an experienced guardianship law firm to represent you, your legal fees are likely to be several thousand dollars for an uncontested guardianship. This fee will be your responsibility regardless of how the proceeding turns out. It can (subject to court approval) be reimbursed from your family member’s resources if you are successful, but most lawyers will expect to be paid up front out of your funds, or soon after proceedings are initiated, and not wait until you have been appointed and can get access to the parent’s or other relative’s funds.

3.    The court-appointed lawyer’s fees. Unless your family member already has a lawyer (and you can’t select one for him or her — it would have to be someone they already had a relationship with or they hired after the proceeding began) the court, in some cases, will appoint an attorney to represent them. The lawyers who accept these appointments come from a rotating list, and they mostly charge their regular hourly rates. The bottom line: don’t be at all surprised if the court-appointed lawyer’s bill exceeds a few thousand dollars.   Fortunately, in most uncontested cases, there is no need for a court-appointed lawyer.

4.    The court-appointed investigator; otherwise known as the court evaluator. Another list of court appointees yields someone who has a social work, medical or legal background, and who is appointed to report to the court about your family member’s circumstances. In most cases, this person is a lawyer despite the fact that this person does not perform a legal function.  The cost for that investigation and report is frequently in the range of a couple to a few thousand dollars.

5.    Bond premiums are due if you (or someone else) are appointed guardian of the property. The premium for this insurance policy can be paid from your family member’s assets. The cost of the bond varies by the size of the estate being managed. Surety bonds can be difficult to purchase at any price, and the availability of bonding companies is often limited.

Add all that up and you can see that the cost of getting a guardian appointed will probably exceed several thousand dollars and can quickly grow to more like $10,000. And remember: that only gets you to the starting point. Additional costs for lawyers, accountants and court proceedings will add more to that figure over the years after your appointment. All the more reason to make sure you and your family are doing everything possible to avoiding the necessity of a guardianship proceeding.


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Who Will Take Care of My Child with Special Needs When I am Gone?

January 9th, 2014

Join Bernard A. Krooks of Littman Krooks LLP and Ryan Platt of A Special Needs Plan (moderated by Keith Caldwell, founder of to present a live webinar for families on  special needs planning.
For details or to participate, please register by clicking here. To join the Facebook Event page, click here.

Who Will Take Care of My Child with Special Needs When I am Gone?

This is the question that kept me up one night a few years ago.  Not having an answer to this question is what started me on my journey of discovery for my family and it was the idea behind the creation of the website I needed answers so that I could sleep comfortably knowing that if something were to happen to me that night, there was a plan in place that would take over and protect my family when I could no longer.

But, my child has autism and I have always been concerned about his future. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to plan for my child’s future because his future weighed heavily on me — I just didn’t know what to do or where to go for expert guidance and direction.  I was so busy with speech therapy, OT, IEPs, typical IEP’s for my special child and the sports leagues, practices, student government activities of my oldest child…

…Overwhelmed at times doesn’t begin to describe how I felt and days quickly turned in weeks which turned into months and, then, into years.  No long term planning was getting done with all of this activity in my life.  Can any of you reading this relate?

For me, to create a truly comprehensive plan, I had to come to terms with my own mortality and the fact of the matter is that ignoring the inevitable will not delay its’ coming.  If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail and failure was not an option for my child and my family.  Making no decision is a decision onto itself. Your little child with special needs will become an adult with special needs in the blink of an eye.

No one wants to talk about our mortality but everyone should.  Finding a team of professionals to help you navigate through the special needs planning process is a critically important task for all caregivers.  Through my own research, I learned of A Special Needs Plan – a leading expert of comprehensive special needs planning and Littman Krooks – the premier special needs planning legal firm in the country.

I spoke to both Bernard Krooks of Littman Krooks and Ryan Platt with A Special Needs Plan and  what struck me most about each of them was their sincere interest in wanting to help educate parents on the planning process.  I brought up my idea to create a series of online interviews that could help walk a parent through the key elements of preparing a plan for their special child and they both readily agreed.   We have completed several of these interviews already and you can watch and listen to them on our website.  Each one is about 25-30 minutes long.

It was important to me that what I learned on my journey, I would be able to share with other parents and caregivers.  Utilizing social media platforms makes it easy to document my learning and make it available to you through YouTube and other social media outlets.  You can watch the “live” interviews on YouTube or Google+ as they take place and ask questions of Ryan and Bernard live on the day of our interviews.

If one of your goals is to finally get your special needs plan completed in 2014, I would encourage you to listen to our previous interviews and put the upcoming ones on your calendar so you can learn how to set up a plan for your family in the new year.

Visit to watch previous interviews and find more planning resources as well as join the  Special Needs Children Community on Google+.


Understanding Guardianship in New York

April 30th, 2013

A guardian is one who is legally entitled to make decisions for another person, such as financial and medical decisions. Guardians are typically appointed for adults with special needs or seniors, when they are unable to care for themselves. In the state of New York, there are two separate processes: Article 17A guardianship is typically used for a developmentally disabled individual and Article 81 guardianship is typically used for a person needing assistance with personal care or financial matters, such as an older person with a progressive illness.

Article 17A Guardianship

When a child with special needs reaches the age of 18, parents will no longer have the right to make decisions for that person, unless an Article 17A guardianship proceeding has been completed. This type of guardianship grants broad authority similar to that held by parents for minor children. A good candidate for an Article 17A guardianship would be a developmentally disabled child approaching the age of 18 whose mental capability is similar to a much younger child.

This type of guardianship was created by Article 17-A of the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act. It is granted by county Surrogate Courts. If the person needing a guardian is under the age of 18, then the court in the county where the guardian lives is used; otherwise the court in the county where the disabled person lives is used.

Obtaining this type of guardianship is relatively simple. Either two doctors or a doctor and a psychologist must certify that the disabled person needs a guardian. The guardian must also provide information about his or her prior residences. The disabled person and his or her spouse (if any), other parent (if only one parent is seeking guardianship), and any adult siblings are all served with guardianship papers, and a court hearing is held to determine whether guardianship will be granted.

Article 81 Guardianship

When an adult is no longer able to make important life decisions or tend to everyday needs, due to an accident or illness, an Article 81 guardianship may be appropriate. This type of guardianship grants specific, individualized powers to the guardian, according to the needs of the disabled person. This type of guardianship is often used in the case of an older person with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.

This type of guardianship was created by Article 81 of the Mental Hygiene Law. It is granted by county Supreme Courts, and is based on the concept of the least restrictive alternative, meaning that only specific types of authority are granted, tailored to the particular needs of the incapacitated person.

In deciding Article 81 guardianship, the court is required to consider alternatives that may better suit the needs of the individual, such as a nursing home, assisted living facility or visiting home health aides to meet the person’s daily needs, or a trustee or payee to handle financial matters. The court may appoint a guardian if it determines that the person cannot provide for personal needs or manage property and financial matters without a guardian and the person is incapacitated or agrees to the guardianship. In the case of a person suffering from the earlier stages of a progressive disease, a court can grant a guardian limited powers that can later be expanded through a modification order.

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Guardianship Succession Bill Signed by Cuomo

August 10th, 2012

A proposed revision made by the NYSARC, Inc. Guardianship Committee in April was passed by both Houses of Legislature and signed by Governor Cuomo on August 1, 2012.

The changes made to the Guardianship Bill are listed below:

  • Chapter 294 of the Laws of 2012 ensures that standby or alternate guardians of developmentally disabled individuals can expeditiously assume their guardianship responsibilities upon the death or incapacity of the primary guardian.
  • Under the prior law, the failure to notify the standby or alternate meant that an individual with a developmental disability often went without a guardian for an indeterminate period of time.
  • This change, Chapter 294, puts a procedure in place, including written notification, to assure that a standby or alternate guardian will be appointed if the primary guardian is no longer able to assume his or her responsibilities for a person with a developmental disability.

At the age of 18, your child, whether with a disability or not, reaches the age of majority and is “emancipated” (free to make their own decisions without parental input). In the case of a child with a disability, he or she is emancipated unless a guardian is appointed. If you are a parent or a family member seeking guardianship for your child, you are required to apply to Court to get requisite authority. There may be certain circumstances where there are alternatives to guardianship. It is extremely important to discuss guardianship and possible alternatives with a qualified attorney who specializes in this area. To learn more, visit

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This article does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon. If you need legal advice concerning this or any other topic please contact our offices to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys at 914-684-2100 or 212-490-2020.