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‘Finding Dory’ puts spotlight on children with special needs

Pixar’s recent film “Finding Dory” will have resonance for parents who have children with special needs. The animated film is the sequel to the 2003 blockbuster “Finding Nemo.” It tells the tale of a blue tang fish named Dory who suffers from short-term memory loss. She cannot remember names, faces or even her way back home.

“Finding Dory” is about how the title character overcomes challenges. The filmmakers use flashbacks to show that Dory’s memory lapses are something she was born with and learns to manage. In the first film, her short-term memory loss was presented as a quirk. However, in the sequel audiences realize that Dory actually has special needs.

Her protective parents begin trying to figure out how their daughter can function in the larger world. For example, they create rhymes to help her remember important safety rules of swimming in the ocean and build seashell trails to guide her home. They also worry whether Dory will be fine on her own.

The systems that Dory’s parents put in place mirror the support that parents try to provide their special needs children. They may establish special needs trusts, seek specialized education or arrange for caregiver services to make their child’s life as comfortable as possible. Just as the support provided by Dory’s parents is specific to her, special needs children often require customized care.

Mitch Prinstein, clinical psychology director at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, told USA Today that he noticed parallels between the film’s depiction and the ways in which caregivers interact with kids who have developmental disabilities. He said the high-profile exposure Pixar has given to disabilities in the film opens up a discussion about the way mental disorders are viewed.

Thank You For Making our 13th Annual Special Needs Seminar our Best Yet

Gilfix and La Poll wishes to thank the hundreds of attendees, and wonderful nonprofit co-sponsors, for making our 13th annual Special Needs Seminar our best yet!

We were overwhelmed with the response, and with all of the kind comments we received from seminar attendees. We were also thrilled to see many attendees connecting with co-sponsor support organizations, including:

  • Center for Independence of San Mateo
  • Children's Health Council
  • Community Resources for Independent Living (CRIL)
  • Jewish Family and Children's Services
  • Life Services Alternatives, Inc.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
  • Pacific Autism Center for Education (PACE)
  • Parents Helping Parents and many more!

The seminars, lead by attorneys Michael Gilfix and Mark R. Gilfix, covered the importance and structure of special needs trusts, recent special needs legislative updates, including the Special Needs Trust Fairness and ABLE Acts, and an overview of how estate planning can incorporate these very important tools. Michael and Mark were thrilled with the quality of questions they received from audience members.

Gilfix and La Poll is proud to be one of the nation’s premiere special needs planning firms. We were overjoyed to connect with so many in the bay area community at our recent seminar.

We know many who signed up were unable to attend, and space and parking restraints meant we were unable to accommodate all who wanted to attend.

Because of this, we will be offering a special follow-up Special Needs Trust Seminar on June 22nd at the Bay Café (1875 Embarcadero Road) in Palo Alto. Space will be limited, and we anticipate a full house. If you hope to attend, we encourage you to register as soon as possible here.

Again, we thank you for making the Special Needs Trust seminar such a wonderful and successful event!

REGISTER NOW FOR OUR SPECIAL EVENT

Three major life events that require an estate plan review

Life is ever-changing, and so are an individual’s estate planning needs. A key feature of estate plans is that they should be flexible enough to adapt to circumstances at various stages throughout one’s lifetime. There are a number of major life events that can help shape the scope of an estate plan. Any major life changes will likely require wills and related planning documents to be reevaluated and updated.

A change in marital status — whether it involves getting married, divorcing or remarrying — is likely to have significant impact on asset management, advance directives, powers of attorney and other estate planning documents. A new spouse does not automatically become the chief heir. Additionally, some couples may choose to draft a prenuptial agreement to manage inheritance rights to each other’s estates. For example, a spouse may choose to protect their biological children’s inheritance in the event their partner remarries.

The arrival of children is a significant life-changing event. Although it may be unpleasant to think about death or incapacity, parents must address the question of how their children will be cared for in case something happens to either one or both of them. Drafting a will provides the opportunity to name a guardian to care for the child. Parents may also consider establishing a trust in order to manage assets.

Moving to a different state also entails estate planning revisions. Each state has its own estate planning and tax laws. Therefore, related documents should be reviewed accordingly. For example, community property states and common law states have different rules on spousal ownership. An existing estate plan should match current requirements and anticipate future needs.

While these are just a few major life events to consider, there are countless others that may prompt an individual to periodically review their estate plan to ensure it meets their objectives.

Gilfix and La Poll invites families to attend 13th Annual Special Needs Trust Seminar

Let’s face it, everyone is worried about the future of government benefits and how individuals with special needs will be cared for. To address this attorneys Michael Gilfix and Mark Gilfix of Gilfix and La Poll Associates are offering a free special needs planning seminar on Wednesday, May 10, 2017 in Palo Alto, California. The 13th Annual Special Needs Trust Seminar will provide valuable information for those who have children or other family members with special needs. There will be two seminar sessions, each lasting two hours.

Both seminars will highlight new legislative developments and opportunities: The ABLE Act and the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act. Special needs trusts are crucial planning tools. Michael Gilfix and Mark Gilfix will explain how they work and why they are necessary to create for a child with a disability. They will also discuss housing for disabled individuals, the ABLE Act, the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act and the possible impact of Trump administration initiatives. Seminar attendees will learn how special needs trusts complement public benefits like Supplemental Security Income and Medi-Cal rather than disturbing eligibility for them.

Michael Gilfix and Mark Gilfix have decades of experience in the field of special needs planning. Michael Gilfix is a member of the Academy of the Special Needs Planners and author of the book “Special Needs Trust Creation and Management Guide.”

The seminar is being held with the support of nonprofit organizations including Autism Society San Francisco Bay Area, Community Resources for Independent Living, Jewish Family and Children Services, Pacific Autism Center for Education, Parents Helping Parents and others.

Space is limited, so please reserve a spot as soon as possible. To register, call 650-493-8070 or visit www.Gilfix.com.

13th Annual Special Needs Trust Seminar
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
2pm to 4pm & 6pm to 8pm
Elks Lodge
4249 El Camino Real
Palo Alto, California

Autism costs rise dramatically with age: study

Caring for individuals with autism and other special needs tends to involve a lifetime of expenses, whether it is paying for caregivers, accommodation or daily necessities. A study from the University of California, Davis (UCD), shows California spends significantly more on adults with autism compared to children who have the disorder. Researchers found state expenditures soar as people with autism age.

Each individual under the age of 18 received an average of $10,500 in state funding annually. Meanwhile, costs for adults were two and a half times higher at around $26,500. The widest gap was between the youngest and oldest age groups with an average difference of nearly $38,000.

The UC Davis Health System study examined per-person spending on autism services for over 42,000 California residents with autism. Researchers analyzed the California Department of Developmental Services’ spending from 2012 to 2013. The department funds services for people with autism through 21 regional centers in California.

The data took into account costs for transportation, daycare, employment support and accommodation at community care facilities. It did not include medical expenses or school expenditure. The study found daycare and residential care were the sources of the highest costs.

“As children with autism grow up and become adults and no longer receive public school-based assistance, their services transition to expensive independent living support and more of the cost burden shifts to the state,” said study author Paul Leigh, a public health sciences professor at UCD. “We hope our data can help justify earlier, expanded and equitable spending on younger children with autism. There is a great return on investment in high-quality early intervention services.”

Military retirees can now use special needs trusts for SBP payments

Military families with special needs children face a number of difficulties when planning for their future financial security. However, a new law now allows military retirees more flexibility and peace of mind with the way their Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) can be paid upon their passing.

The SBP allows retired military members to designate up to 55 percent of their retirement pay to eligible children, spouses or other beneficiaries. Under the Disabled Military Child Protection Act, military parents can now provide survivor benefits to a disabled child via a special needs trust. Although the Act was passed in December 2014, the Department of Defense did not issue a guidance on how to implement SBP payments to a legally established special needs trust until a year later.

Previously, military families faced the challenge of being unable to assign SBP payments to a trust. The funds had to be designated to an actual person, whether it was the beneficiary, a guardian or representative payee.

As a result, military retirees with special needs children were reluctant to select their child as the beneficiary. They feared the SBP payments could potentially affect the child’s eligibility for government benefit programs such as Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income. With the new policy, both SBP support and eligibility for government benefits can be protected with a special needs trust.

Military families need to think about the long-term impact when designating survivor benefits for a disabled child. When considering the use of a special needs trust for SBP payouts, families should consult a knowledgeable special needs planning attorney to ensure the correct type of trust is used in their plan and that it is in compliance with federal and state laws.

Estate planning implications of winning the lottery

Although winning the lottery can be exciting, it carries enormous estate and gift tax implications. Finances can dwindle away in no time if they are not managed properly.

Lottery winners have the option of taking the prize as a lump sum or an annuity that is divided into 30 annual payments. California exempts lottery winnings from income tax. However, a chunk of winnings are withheld for federal taxes. The annuity payments are also subject to the same federal tax albeit spread over each installment.

Establishing a trust can help lottery winners maintain a degree of anonymity and provide a tool for managing assets and finances. Trusts can also allow the future transfer of wealth to children and other heirs with minimal estate tax exposure. If a prize is assigned to a qualifying revocable living trust, the lottery will make installment payments to the trust.

Lottery winnings present a number of estate planning challenges. If a person with special needs wins the lottery, the winnings are likely to affect eligibility for government benefits such as Medicaid.

If the prize is received in an annuity towards the end of a winner’s expected lifetime, they could die before receiving all the installments. The balance of future payments then become part of the estate, like other assets. In such cases, the estate’s representatives will begin the process of transferring payments to heirs. The process is simpler if the winner has designated beneficiaries.

One of the first things a lottery winner should do is consult a lawyer to prevent making major mistakes. The cost of not taking the necessary estate planning measures can be devastating.

Why young adults should consider estate planning

Under California law, once a child turns 18 years of age they are viewed as an adult. Entering adulthood involves taking steps to prepare for the unexpected, whether it is a sudden illness or a serious accident. No one likes to think of themselves in such terrible circumstances in which they are unable to make their own informed decisions. However, preparing for the future can help provide peace of mind.

Few young adults are aware of the need for at least a basic estate plan. According to a 2015 study by Fidelity Investments, 41 percent of millennials have not discussed wills and estate planning with their parents. Parents tend to assume they are entitled to make legal decisions for their college-aged children. However, once a person turns 18, they have “the legal right to privacy and to govern their own lives” as an adult.

Key estate planning documents a young adult should have are a will, power of attorney, advanced health care directive and HIPAA release. A HIPAA — or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — release gives doctors permission to share medical information with those named on the form in case of an emergency.

While it is not necessary for every 18-year-old to have a will, they should appoint a trusted friend or family member to serve as a health care proxy. This person has the authority to make medical decisions on the young adult’s behalf in the event they are unable to.

Young adults would also benefit from a general power of attorney. In many cases parents are named appointees. However, without the proper documents, they would be unable to access their child’s financial accounts. Not having such estate planning documents could create serious complications in case of an accident or other unforeseen circumstances.

Smartphone app helps nonverbal children communicate through symbols

Predictive typing firm SwiftKey has launched a smartphone app that aims to provide special needs children with an easier way to communicate.

SwiftKey Symbols is described as an assistive symbol-based communication app specially designed for children with autism and other learning difficulties. It can be used by other nonverbal individuals as well. The company’s contextual language prediction technology allows users to communicate with others by selecting images from various categories in order to create sentences.

Children with autism may face difficulties developing language skills and communicating effectively with others. Technological innovations such as this app help to remove communication barriers for special needs children by opening up opportunities for them to express themselves. SwiftKey Symbols includes an audio playback feature where a formed sentence is read aloud for children with verbal impairments. It also allows users to customize the app by adding their own categories and images.

The app gradually adapts to the user through its predictive sentence completion feature. SwiftKey technology suggests symbols based on factors such as time and day. For example, if the user has art lessons on Wednesday afternoons, the icons previously selected at that time will appear.

SwiftKey shared in a blog post that the inspiration for the new app came from the company’s employees whose nonverbal family members have autism. “We wanted to bring an accessible, free app to people with talking and learning difficulties so that they could communicate more easily with their friends and family,” wrote product manager Ryan Barnes.

The app is available for free download on Android devices.

California caregiver law aims to prevent elder abuse

The law seeks to enhance the safety of elderly and disabled people who receive private home care services from a caregiver who assists them with daily tasks. Senior citizens can often be vulnerable to abuse, whether it is physical, sexual, mental or financial. Elder abuse can happen not just in a nursing home or other institutional care facility, but also in one’s own home.

Under the Home Care Services Consumer Protection Act, home care agencies in California are now required to be licensed with the state and provide their staff with mandatory training in first aid, CPR and emergency procedures. In addition, their caregivers must pass a criminal background check and register with the Department of Social Services.

Independent caregivers are also required to be licensed before providing any type of home care services. Elderly individuals or their families can then check the state's database to ensure the caregivers are registered. Prior to this law, only those providing medical services at home were subjected to certification requirements and background checks.

Agencies that are not licensed may incur fines of up to $900 per day. The legislation comes after reports of senior citizens in California suffering embezzlement, fraud and abuse at the hands of home caregivers. The hope is that the Act will help usher in stricter standards to the state’s home care industry, which has lacked oversight and regulation.