SPECIAL NEEDS & SPECIAL EDUCATION
KSLN is dedicated to providing legal assistance for individuals with disabilities and their families. Our extensive knowledge of the issues (both legal and otherwise) that people with disabilities often face enables us to be compassionate advocates, empowering individuals and families. KSLN is one of the most experienced law firms in this area of legal practice and offers a range of legal services to our clients. Our disabilities law attorneys have published numerous papers and keep their knowledge current about changes to Federal and state laws that affect individuals with disabilities.
The legal questions surrounding Special Education and other disability issues can be extremely complex, which is why KSLN offers focused and knowledgeable service in this area of the law. We provide security and comfort for families of children with disabilities, attending meetings and hearings to ensure that school districts are working in the best interests of students with disabilities. Even when litigation is not involved, we are often able to bring about solutions for families and school districts by negotiating (or mediating) solutions to conflicts and helping both parties avoid costly and time-consuming legal challenges.
We also apply the same experience, knowledge and insight in our other areas of law. Whether assisting families with estate planning (including Special Needs Trusts, Wills, Health Care Proxies and Powers of Attorney), Guardianships, Probate of Estates, Health Law (including appeals to ensure insurance coverage), or disability discrimination cases, you can be assured of quality legal assistance.
In every case, we strive to provide personalized service with a consistent standard of excellence guided by our experience in disabilities law. Our attorneys understand parents’ need to be sure their child’s needs are met.
If you need legal services of any kind involving a child or family member with a disability in New York State or nationwide, KSLN is ready to serve you.
Wills, Trusts, and Estate Planning
Your Last Will and Testament is likely the single most important document in your Estate Plan. Your Will gives specific instructions as to what should happen to your property after your death and names who you want to be in charge of seeing that your wishes are met. Since a Will plays so many important roles in an effective Estate Plan, an attorney often helps draft it.
If you do not have a valid Will, your property will be distributed under the laws of “intestacy,” which lay out a set framework as to who gets how much of your estate. Without a Will, your property may be divided up in a way you never intended and you have no say as to who handles your property after your death.
Estate planning is an important service that KSLN provides to all families, particularly those with individuals with disabilities. Parents and family members of individuals with disabilities understand the need to provide for the long-term well-being of their loved ones, which can be especially complex. Our will and estate planning attorneys understand the issues facing the families of persons with disabilities and can help you ensure the financial and personal security of your loved ones.
Caring for Loved Ones with Disabilities
Some individuals with disabilities will require specific care and services for the rest of their lives, and many family members, especially parents, worry about how that care can be continued when they pass away. KSLN can advise you about various legal mechanisms for ensuring the long-term care and stability of disabled children and loved ones.
We will help you create and update your end-of-life arrangements, including your Last Will and Testament. This important document governs the distribution, investment, and management of your financial resources after your passing.
KSLN can also help you set up financial and legal entities such as a trust, to which you can designate a portion of your financial resources. A will can also be a vehicle for charitable giving to organizations that serve or advocate for individuals with disabilities.
Making End-of-Life Decisions
For many people, dealing with end-of-life issues is difficult and emotionally taxing. KSLN understands this difficulty, but we are also aware of the necessity for end-of-life planning. Without important documents like your Will, your remaining assets may end up being used in ways you would not approve of, or may not adequately provide for your family. Even if you are still young, it is important to consider the possibility of an accidental or premature death and the consequences for your family. This is important not because you should be afraid, but because you should be prepared.
A trust is a legal mechanism for transferring ownership of assets from one person (settler) to another (trustee) with an agreement that the assets will be used or distributed according to the directions of the settler for the benefit of another person (beneficiary). Trusts may be created by a person’s Will to take effect upon that person’s death, or created during one’s lifetime by establishing a Trust Agreement. A special needs trust (Supplemental Needs Trust in New York) can be created in the same ways to manage certain assets of an individual with disabilities so that these assets do not interfere with the individual's eligibility for state and federal assistance programs, such as SSI or Medicaid. For families of individuals with disabilities, creating a special needs trust can be an important way to provide for the financial future of a loved one whose disability prevents him or her from working or managing finances.
The estate planning attorneys of KSLN have worked for years with families of individuals with disabilities and understand your concerns about your loved one’s personal and financial well-being. Our legal experience working in disabilities law make us an excellent choice for creating a special needs trust for your loved one with a disability.
Providing for the Future
For parents of individuals with developmental disabilities or other disabilities who are eligible for government benefits (i.e. SSI or Medicaid), creating a trust can provide peace of mind in knowing that their children will be financially protected. It is also comforting to know that someone trustworthy, the trustee, will look after your child when you cannot. Even young parents should be aware of the need for this sort of arrangement.
Trusts are quite flexible and can be customized to suit the needs, abilities, and limitations of loved ones with disabilities. Our trust planning attorneys will help you create a viable trust that will provide for your loved one exactly as you direct.
Paying It Forward
Trusts can also be a mechanism for charitable giving. There are many organizations and charities that serve individuals with disabilities. In raising a child with disabilities, parents often benefit from these not-for-profit organizations, which in turn are funded by the generosity of others. In your end-of-life planning, KSLN can help you set up a trust that will help other families of persons with disabilities.
People with special needs, especially those on governmental benefits (e.g. SSI or Medicaid), present a unique circumstance for Estate Plans. An inheritance, either through a Will or without one, will likely put their eligibility for those benefits at risk. To help protect their eligibility for benefits, your loved one with a disability will likely be helped by setting up a Special Needs Trust.
Health Care Proxies and Living Wills
A Health Care Proxy is a legal document (like a Power of Attorney) designating a person who is authorized to make health care decisions for a person who is unable to make those decisions. Once you have designated a Health Care Proxy, you remain in charge of your healthcare decisions as long as you are competent to do so. Usually the designated proxy is a close family member or other trusted individual. Health Care Proxies are an important way to ensure that your wishes regarding medical treatment are respected in the event that you can no longer make competent decisions. KSLN can advise and assist you in preparing a Health Care Proxy.
Making Important Decisions
If your child has disabilities that may make it hard for him or her to understand the ramifications of important medical decisions, but is otherwise competent, a Health Care Proxy can allow you to leave your child a high degree of independence but ensure that medical decisions are made correctly. If your adult child has disabilities that generally make independent living difficult, an Article 17-A guardianship may be a more appropriate option.
Preparing for the Unexpected
Choosing a person as your health care agent can give you peace of mind in knowing that someone you trust will be able to make health care decisions according to your beliefs and wishes. While most health care agents will never need to fulfill this obligation, it is important to have such a plan in place in the event of an unexpected accident or disability. These instructions can also lift the burden of tough end-of-life choices from your family members and give them assurance that your wishes are being followed.
KSLN will help you figure out what instructions you would like to include and will make sure the legal language makes your wishes clear. We understand that these are important and tough choices and we will lend our years of legal experience to advise you on what can help your family the most.
Informing Your Family and Your Doctor
Because your Health Care Proxy document may be invoked on an emergency basis, it is very important that a copy of the document be available at any time. Once the document is signed, it is advisable to distribute copies to your primary physician, your spouse or immediate family, your attorney, and especially your designated agents.
Powers of Attorney
A Power of Attorney is a legal document in which you give another person the authority to handle your financial affairs. This is an important document that should be done while you are competent to prepare for the possibility that in the future you may not be capable of managing your finances.
Estates and Probate
Suffering the loss of a loved one, especially a parent or close family member, can be emotionally devastating. The family is grieving and may find it very difficult to cope with the legal issues surrounding the execution of the deceased’s will and the distribution of assets. KSLN can be an invaluable support team to handle the legal matters while your family grieves. We understand that during such an emotional time, you need a competent and compassionate estate and probate attorney who can oversee the financial and legal issues that may arise.
Will Execution and Intestacy
If the deceased has a valid Will, an Executor is named who is charged with making sure the will’s instructions are followed. However, executors are often family members who need help figuring out the meaning of the Will’s instructions. For example, Wills for parents of individuals with disabilities often include complex legal mechanisms like the creation of a special needs trust to provide for the disabled child. Also, an Executor usually needs the assistance and guidance of a knowledgeable attorney to make proper filings with Surrogate’s Court and to handle estate assets. KSLN will help your family properly abide by the wishes of your deceased loved one and navigate the laws and responsibilities for the estate.
If a valid Will cannot be produced for the deceased, the estate falls under the laws of intestacy, which may result in assets being distributed in a way the deceased would not have wanted. This problem underscores the need for estate planning and creating a will. Such end-of-life planning may be uncomfortable, but it relieves a huge burden for your family and ensures your wishes are respected. Nonetheless, our experienced attorneys can represent the estate and help get an Administrator appointed and provide legal assistance to ensure the estate complies with the law.
The process of executing a will and distributing assets is known as probate. KSLN can guide your family through the probate process, which frequently involves complicated financial transactions, asset liquidation, and dealing with creditors. We are a law firm you can trust to make sure that the deceased’s will is executed properly and all financial matters are proper and in order.
We understand that the grieving process takes time, which is why we offer to be a legal team your family can depend on to take care of business while you grieve.
If you have a loved one with a disability that limits his or her ability to capably make important personal, financial, legal, or medical decisions, you may understandably be concerned about his or her long-term welfare. One option for individuals with developmental disabilities, or other conditions that affect their ability to make decisions, is guardianship. A guardianship gives a person or group of people the legal power and responsibility to make crucial decisions for another person.
Types of Guardianship
Guardianship is an option for individuals with disabilities, whether minors, young people turning 18 or older adults who can no longer make important decisions. There are different kinds of guardianships for individuals with differing types of disabilities, as well as different levels of decision-making capacity and independence. Having worked for years with families of persons with disabilities, our team at KSLN is knowledgeable and qualified to handle any guardianship proceedings.
Used primarily for individuals with developmental disabilities, Article 17-A guardianships allow parents, or other family members, to retain decision-making authority and, if necessary, financial control. Since the legal age of majority is 18 in New York State, even people with significant developmental disabilities are considered adults under the law when they become 18. Without a guardianship, no one can make needed decisions for such an adult.
Article 81 guardianships are more complex. It typically applies in the case of an acquired disability caused by an accident, disease, or old age. This type of guardianship is more easily customized to provide limited independence for the ward as his or her abilities warrant.
Drawbacks of Guardianship and Alternatives
Guardianships can provide a sense of security for parents and family members of individuals with disabilities. However, they are not always advisable. Families considering guardianship should consult with a disabilities law attorney about all available options, including:
Power of Attorney
Health Care Proxies
Non-profit organizations serving individuals with disabilities
Come to us with any legal questions regarding individuals with disabilities and you are sure to receive compassionate, attentive service and top-notch legal expertise.
There are many types of discrimination in our society and one of the most insidious is discrimination against people, especially children, with disabilities. People regularly underestimate the abilities, intelligence, and competence of individuals with disabilities, intentionally or unintentionally excluding them from activities and responsibilities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act are federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. Their protections extend to protect people with disabilities from discrimination by employers, by local and state government, in places of public accommodation and by agencies (and entities) that receive federal money.
To qualify for protection as an individual with a disability, a person must have a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. A person with such a disability not only has a right to be treated the same as those without disabilities, but also may be entitled to receive extra accommodations – in order to “level the playing field.”
Discrimination against children with disabilities may also take the form of inadequate assistance or accommodation in the classroom. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) addresses this form of discrimination, requiring educators to provide special services for children with disabilities who need them. KSLN is committed to helping families of children with disabilities fight discrimination in all its forms.
If a lawsuit is necessary to protect one’s rights, and if you prevail, the laws provide for the right to have the discriminating party pay for the attorneys’ fees of the person with a disability.
Protecting Children from Discrimination
Ideally, parents and educators together create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that should protect against discrimination by ensuring that a student with disabilities receives all necessary help and assistance while being socially included and challenged to his or her full potential. Unfortunately, some IEPs fail to strike this delicate balance and may not fully address discrimination and exclusion directly. In addition, teachers and administrators may fail to properly implement a well-balanced IEP, resulting in discriminatory practices.
If you have a child with a disability, the disabilities education lawyers of KSLN have the understanding and experience necessary to help you protect your young learner from discrimination in education. We are committed to defending the rights of disabled people, working to ensure that students with disabilities are able to reach their highest academic and personal potential for success.
Discrimination Outside of School
Discrimination against individuals with disabilities happens in non-educational settings as well, and KSLN is equally committed to stopping discrimination in those areas. Workplace discrimination is one of the most common challenges faced by individuals with disabilities. As in schools, supervisors and managers routinely underestimate the capabilities of disabled co-workers. Therefore, workers with disabilities may be denied pay raises, promotions, and other benefits.
Wheelchair accessibility and accommodations for individuals with physical challenges is lacking in many public places, institutions, and private businesses. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws require accessibility in most settings, older buildings and non-compliant businesses and institutions still present major challenges for wheelchair users. Still other places may lack appropriate Braille signage or safety equipment such as visual fire alarms for the visually impaired. Our anti-discrimination lawyers will help you take the necessary steps to fight for accessibility and accommodation for individuals with disabilities.
Parents are often the first to recognize that a child may have a disability. As a parent, you know your child better than anyone else and will naturally be concerned if your infant or toddler does not reach certain developmental milestones. If you believe your child may have a disability, the first step is to speak with your family pediatrician about your concerns. Every child is unique and develops at his or her own pace.
On the other hand, there are also knowledgeable professionals other than physicians who can be helpful, and evaluations may be free of charge. If your child has a developmental delay affecting one or more functional areas-physical, cognitive, communication, social-emotional, or adaptive-he or she may be eligible for Early Intervention services until the age of 3. The qualified disability attorneys of KSLN concentrate in providing legal assistance to families of children with disabilities and can help you navigate the Early Intervention program process.
Steps for the Early Intervention Program
To receive Early Intervention assistance, there are a series of steps to determine eligibility, what benefits are needed, and to develop a plan of action. Initially, you or a qualified individual can refer your child to your county’s Early Intervention Official, who will schedule any necessary evaluations or medical assessments to determine if your child qualifies for assistance. The disabilities lawyers of KSLN can help to guide you through this process, collecting the necessary documentation and consulting with your Early Intervention Official.
Once your child’s eligibility is established, you as parents and other important family members (or caregivers you choose), will meet with your Early Intervention Official, your initial service coordinator, and your child’s evaluators to create an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). The IFSP outlines goals for your child and what services are needed to achieve those outcomes. The IFSP also includes the designation of an ongoing service coordinator. Someone from KSLN may also attend this meeting with you, if you choose, to ensure that your IFSP meets your child’s needs. We can also help you prepare or represent you in mediation or an impartial hearing if you and the Early Intervention Official disagree on the contents, outcomes, or services detailed in your IFSP.
KSLN is also available to act as your advocate and legal support system if, during your Early Intervention Program experience, you feel your child is not being adequately or appropriately served by the program.
OUR SPECIAL NEEDS & SPECIAL EDUCATION PRACTICE GROUP
To learn more about KSLN, and how we can help you, please contact us today for a free initial consultation.