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Setting up a special needs trust: three reasons to start sooner

When preparing for the future of a child or family member with a disability, many parents and guardians plan to set up a special needs trust. 

This unique kind of trust can provide for many of the supplemental needs of a disabled person without jeopardizing that person’s eligibility for vital government benefits, including Medi-Cal and Supplemental Security Income. However, few know that there are concrete benefits to setting up such a trust sooner rather than later.

Start growing now.
When parents or grandparents set up and put money into a special needs trust during their own lifetimes, it can start to grow immediately. From the time the trust is established, anyone can contribute to it – uncles, godparents, friends – creating an especially beneficial way for loved ones to contribute to your child or family member’s future.

Ensure that the trust has the most beneficial structure.
Some special needs trusts, especially those created for assets already belonging to the beneficiary, mandate that funds remaining in the trust after the death of the beneficiary must first go to pay back Medi-Cal for all expenses covered during the beneficiary’s lifetime. When a trust is set up within the parents’ lifetime, by contrast, it can be established before any assets pass on to the beneficiary. A correctly drafted third-party special needs trust need not have a payback provision.

Give yourself time to change the trustee(s) or remainder beneficiaries.
The administration of a special needs trust can be complicated. Many parents or guardians entrust this responsibility to a professional trustee, who can ensure proper disbursement that does not endanger benefits eligibility. Other parents select a family member. Regardless, a properly constructed third-party special needs trust can give parents the flexibility to change trustees over time as needs change.

For more than 30 years, Gilfix & La Poll Associates LLP has innovated creative legal solutions to help you manage and plan the future of your estate. To contact an estate planning lawyer, visit or call (800) 244-9424.

For a copy of Michael Gilfix’s guide, Special Needs Trust Creation and Management, visit the same website or call the number above.

Planning a summer vacation for your special needs child

When planning a summer vacation for your special needs child, it’s never too early to ask him or her for input. Find out which activities your daughter is currently enjoying the most and what your son's hopes are for the blissful stretch of time when school is out.

As with any family activity, keep your child’s interests, developing skills and difficulties in mind. If your child normally has trouble adjusting to new settings, it could be a good idea to begin by visiting familiar territory. Similarly, you might plan to bring along a friend with whom your child feels comfortable for long periods of time.

Special needs family camps are another summer option. Such camps invite the entire family to spend a weekend together in an accepting setting, where special needs kids and their loved ones can bond over a variety of outdoor activities in a more calming, convenient setting than most traditional camps offer.

Your child’s school is a great resource for finding day programs or overnight camps geared towards your child’s interests. A simple Google search will also turn up targeted results. 

Ensure that whatever summer camp or destination you choose has the facilities to meet your child’s needs. Never hesitate to request a tour of camp facilities with your child to make sure everyone feels comfortable there. Pay special attention to bathing, eating and sleeping arrangements. Jot down a list of care considerations your child requires so that you can speak with camp management about them specifically.

As always, when planning for your child, make sure any schedule works well realistically and fits within boundaries with which your child is comfortable. Over-extending your child or under-engaging his or her interests can create a stressful summer experience. With planning, your family can enjoy the great weather and expand your child’s knowledge, interests and horizons.

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Health Care Decisions Day April 16, 2014

A Message from Myra Gerson Gilfix

We at Gilfix & La Poll Associates believe that estate planning includes planning with regard to what will happen to us – not just to our property and other assets – when we're at the end of our lives. We make it part of our service to you to enter into a discussion about what you want and don't want to happen when the end of life is near. This is only the first conversation; we encourage you to share your feelings, values and wishes with your loved ones and medical practitioners. We practice what we preach. If we don't engage in this planning, we’re vulnerable to what can transpire by default – spending our last few days in an ICU, even if that’s at odds with our needs and preferences.

“Dying well” is quite personal. Your conversation(s) with the people you’re closest to lets them know how you want to die and how they, surviving friends and family members, can help carry out your wishes without uncertainty and guilt. People who’d prefer to die at home can do so, and benefit from pain management and comfort over costly and "heroic" measures. Having this conversation before a crisis – or being open to such conversations – gives everyone time to digest, reflect and integrate the information.

We want you to be clear about end of life treatment so that family members and medical providers have the guidance they need to respect your preferences. Loved ones need to talk to one another when circumstances aren’t so charged. Better that these conversations occur around a dining table than around a hospital bed.

Most of you have already signed an Advance Health Care Directive. That is a huge benefit to you and to your loved ones. But be sure to keep the conversations going. The person you appointed to make decisions on your behalf when you are unable to speak for yourself needs to feel comfortable with your wishes and to understand your values. Having the rest of your family "on board" is also important.

Wednesday, April 16, is Health Care Decisions Day. Let this be a reminder to communicate with those you care about so that your life can reflect your values and wishes – even at its end. Then go out and celebrate life!

Myra Gerson Gilfix was the founding Chair of Healthcare Decision-making Special Interest Group (SIG) for the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. This SIG dealt with multiple issues regarding health care, including health care advance directives, durable powers of attorney, DNR orders, biomedical ethics, issues relating to pain relief, dying at home, palliative care, and informed consent.



California Families With A Special Needs Child Deserve Better State Support; Role of Special Needs Trusts

According to a study by the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health, California is ranked last in the U.S. when it comes to effective referrals for specialty medical care for children, and 46th in the country for effective medical care coordination.
There are approximately 1 million children in California who have chronic emotional, developmental, and/or physical challenges, and they all need competent, specialized care. The Packard Foundation for Children's Health was founded in 1997 to raise the quality of children's healthcare and improve public access. Currently, more than 40 percent of parents with children who have complex health needs report that they struggle to find the correct medical professionals and getting much-needed appointments with them.
The Packard analysis also found that parents in the state who had a child with special needs reported greater-than-average difficulty finding quality health insurance, consistent child care, medical equipment and transportation, and were more likely to stop working than parents in other states who had a child with special needs. Children in California with complex health needs were less likely to receive all the services they needed, the study found.
The Packard analysis did not tell the California-based parents of children with special needs anything they did not already know; they need a better support system to better support their child.

Parents also need to prepare Special Needs Trusts for their special needs children. In addition to setting aside money for the child – without jeopardizing eligibility for government benefits – such trusts name a “trustee” who serves as an advocate and resource for the child.

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Worried About the Cost of Nursing Home Care? You Should Be

The latest numbers show why so many people are worried about being able to afford nursing home care: approximately one out of two women and one out of four men will need nursing home care at some point in their later years. Nursing home care is expensive, and Medicare will not cover long-term care costs. Most people end up depleting their life savings within the first twelve months of what ends up being a prolonged stay.

A long-term care insurance plan that was included in the 2010 Affordable Care Act, but it has been abandoned because it was fiscally unworkable. Congress has launched a study commission to try to develop solutions to the overwhelming need for long-term care support. That support is sorely needed: the average cost of a private room in a nursing home here in California is $91,250 per year, and the national rate is $77,745 per year. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 70 percent of people over the age of 65 will need some type of long-term care; more than 40 percent will need long-term nursing home care. And few people have prepared for that cost. Life savings are depleted, or the cost is placed on loved ones who must choose between their own financial security and giving their parent the best care possible.

Critical to this area of planning is Medi-Cal. With careful, professional planning, estates can be protected white nursing home residents qualify for Medi-Cal, which can pay all or most of the cost of such care.

Work with the elder law and estate planning attorneys at Gilfix & La Poll to secure your future long-term needs.

Michael Gilfix is an estate planning attorney in Palo Alto California and is one of the pioneers of elder law. To learn more, visit Gilfix & La Poll Associates LLP at

Ninth Annual Special Needs Trust Community Seminar

As part of our ongoing dedication to working with our clients and the local community, Gilfix and La Poll Associates, LLP, is hosting our ninth annual Special Needs Trust Community Seminar. The event is designed to provide you and your loved ones with up-to-date, reliable information about special needs trusts and public benefits eligibility for disabled individuals.

A Special Needs Trust, sometimes known as a supplemental trust, is a legal document that ensures there will be security in place in the future. One of the hardest things for any parent with a special needs child is planning for what happens when that parent is no longer able to care for the child. There are worries and concerns about what the future may hold. A Special Needs Trust can alleviate that concern by putting a trustee in place to oversee the management of the trust. The trust will hold assets that can be used for special interests, education, recreation – all without undercutting anyone's eligibility for much-needed government benefits.

We hope you'll join us at the Special Needs Trust seminar on April 2nd at the Crowne Plaza Cabana in Palo Alto, CA. There are two sessions: 2PM – 4PM and 6PM – 8PM, both free and open to the public. Also in attendance will be numerous local organizations.

For more information on the seminar or about special needs trusts, call (650) 493-8070 or (408) 971-7292.