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How Do I Find a Special Needs Planning Lawyer?

This guest post is from Benjamin Rubin.

Let me begin by asking you a question. If you needed heart surgery, would you go to a general practitioner or an internist? Of course you would not entrust your heart surgery to anyone but an Blog-Special-Needs-Lawyer-Main-Landscapeexperienced heart surgeon. Likewise, when you need special needs planning, you shouldn’t be considering a general practitioner, or even a general estate planning attorney.

So, what is special needs planning?

The attorney should be experienced not only in drafting the two kinds of Special Needs Trusts, but also be experienced dealing with the Social Security Administration and the state when they review the trusts upon application for SSI and Medicaid, or upon redeterminations. The attorney should also be familiar with guardianship and the alternatives to guardianship, as well as how to navigate successfully the state’s children and adult services system for individuals with special needs including intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, mental illness, or those with significant physical disabilities. We often refer to it as the Illinois “maze” for services.

In addition, you want an attorney who will know, and advise you promptly, when new laws, rules, or procedures occur that impact your planning. You want to find an attorney or firm that can assist you, with compassion and understanding. Many special needs planning attorneys are themselves parents or siblings of individuals with special needs and “get it.”

I suggest that the first place to visit is www.specialneedsalliance.org, The Special Needs Alliance (SNA) is a national, not-for-profit, association of experienced special needs planning attorneys, a majority of whom are fellow parents or siblings. Membership is by invitation. I was honored last year to be invited as one of the youngest members to ever be invited to join the SNA and my father is honored to serve as President-Elect of that national organization. In fact, three of the four attorneys in our office are invited SNA Member Attorneys, and the fourth is an Affiliate SNA Member attorney.

Another source is www.specialneedsplanners.com. The Academy of Special Needs Planners (ASNP), a national group, is owned by three attorneys and is open to all attorneys, regardless of experience. My father was a charter member of that group and I remain a member of this group. There are many excellent special needs planning attorneys that are members of ASNP.

However, if you are considering an attorney who is not a member of Special Needs Alliance, I suggest you ask some questions such as:

  1. How many “third party special needs trusts” have you prepared in the past month? Six months?
  2. How many “first party special needs trusts” have you prepared in the past month? Six months?
  3. If the Social Security Administration or the State of Illinois has questions about the trust(s) you drafted, will you “handle” those questions without any additional cost/fees?
  4. How many adult guardianships have you handled and powers of attorney have you drafted for individuals with special needs in the past year?
  5. What other areas of practice does that attorney handle (check his or her web site)? That is, are they also doing business law, traffic, divorce, bankruptcy, personal injury, etc.? If they are practicing in other areas of law, then they will not be able to adequately stay current with the constant changes that take place in the area of special needs planning.

Finally, you are not just looking for someone to draft a document, but you are looking for a relationship with a firm that will be going down that road to peace of mind with you for many years.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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bnrbarmjrBenjamin Rubin limits his law practice, as does the firm of Rubin Law, to Special Needs Legal and Future Planning for his fellow families of individuals with special needs. Benji serves as Vice-Chair of the American Bar Association’s Special Needs Planning Committee, is a member of both the Academy of Special Needs Planners and, by invitation, the Special Needs Alliance, the national not-for-profit association of special needs planning attorneys, is President of SIBS (Supporting Illinois Brothers and Sisters), the Illinois chapter of the national Sibling Leadership Network, which is an organization of adult siblings of individuals with intellectual disabilities, developmental Disabilities, mental illness, among other special needs, is a member of the Board of Directors of The Arc of Illinois, is a member of the Clearbrook Associate Board (Clearbrook is an agency serving over 7,000 children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, one of whom is Benji’s brother Mitchell), is a member of the SEDOL (Special Education District of Lake County) Foundation Board of Directors, and serves on the Advisory Council of Encompass a joint venture that in partnership with Jewish Child & Family Services, Jewish United Fund, JVS Chicago, JCC Chicago, Keshet, and The Center for Enriched Living and Center for Independent Futures, seeks to provide adults with I/DD a full array of financially sustainable, community-based services and supports.Having Mitchell as a brother profoundly shaped who Benji is today, and thus the type of law he chose to practice. His personal experiences as a sibling offer a unique perspective into the responsibilities that come with caring for a sibling with special needs. Now, as an adult, those sometimes present and future responsibilities he will share with his older sister regarding his brother’s care, are a concern that he shares with all brothers and sisters of individuals with special needs.