Spirituality and Religious Practice for People with Special Needs

Participation in religious practices can be complicated for people with special needs and their families, but that doesn’t mean that their need for spirituality is any less.  A religious practice for people with special needs is important for many. Since today marks the beginning of Passover, the Easter celebration, and we are still in the midst of Ramadan, this is a fitting time to reflect on your family’s religious needs and the religious needs of your child with special needs.

Many mosques, synagogues and churches have strong and thriving special needs ministries and organizations. While not all congregations are as welcoming for people with different abilities, progress has been made and each faith has resources for congregations interested in doing  a better job of reaching people with disabilities and their families.

Below are links to just a few articles and sites that may be of interest.  If you are searching for a spiritual home for you or your family a websearch for “special needs (your town) (your religion)” will get you started. 

If you have other websites or articles to suggest as resources, drop them in the comments.

Spirituality information

***** Spirituality and Disability: Implications for Special Education “address issues related to disability and spirituality, consider the impact of spirituality on children with disabilities, and suggest some practical strategies teachers can use to help foster the spiritual development of students with disabilities” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/45718875_Spirituality_and_Disabilities_Implications_for_Special_Education

******The Friendship Circle “The core of the Rebbe’s teachings is that none of us is complete unless all of us are included. It is this concept that motivates the Friendship Circle.https://www.friendshipcircle.com/

*******Muslims whose disabilities complicate fasting, praying find alternative ways to practice Ramadan rituals: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/breaking/ct-met-ramadan-disabled-muslims-alternative-practices-20190501-story.html

*******Spirituality among People with Disabilities: A Nationally Representative Study of Spiritual and Religious Profiles https://academic.oup.com/hsw/article/44/2/75/5248513

******Addressing the Spirituality Needs of Children with Special Needs https://coping.us/parentwithchildrenwithspecialneeds/spiritualityofchildrenwithspecialneeds.html

Parker Counsel Legal Services is a special needs law firm providing estate planning, special needs trusts, guardianship, and more to families with children who have developmental disabilities. Offices in Texas, Massachusetts, New Jersey. To see how we can help your family prepare for the future, schedule a short phone call here, or call 833-Red-BOOT (833-733-2668) or email at legal@parkercounsel.com.

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Swedish Death Cleaning

Have you heard about this?  As I understand it, there is a tradition in Sweden, verified by the existence of a single word in the Swedish cleaning toolslanguage that means the cleaning and decluttering done by a person who believes that their life is close to the end, of culling your worldly possessions to a manageable amount of meaningful or immediately useful items before you die. Or something like that.  I’m not sure if this is an actual Swedish tradition or merely something we’ve all suddenly started talking about here in the U.S.  Either way, it’s an interesting idea.   You can read more about it here and here.

I’m certainly not opposed to the idea behind Death Cleaning.  However, it seems to me to be the same as the idea behind Spring Cleaning, or behind the “Decluttering” advice, which you can read about here and here.  The only difference I can see is that Swedish Death Cleaning is for people who never got around to Spring Cleaning or Decluttering.   Same thing, just pushed to the last minute.  Maybe, at its heart, Swedish Death Cleaning is the ultimate proof of hardcore procrastination versus your ordinary, garden variety procrastination.

And finally, remember that unless your death cleaning results in throwing every single one of your possessions, you’ll still need a will.  (Had to get that plug in, because taking care of adult business always includes paperwork!)

 

3 Things to know about attorney-client privilege

secret-3037639_1280The term attorney-client privilege is in the news today.  If you have an attorney, or if you are about to hire an attorney, or if you are thinking about an attorney, some of this news may be alarming to read.  So before you go any further, I want to give you three important things to know about attorney-client privilege.

  1. Attorney-client privilege protects confidential information learned by an attorney in the course of consulting with, advising, or representing a person.    Attorney’s can’t give good legal advice if they don’t have good information.  Sometimes the information the attorney needs is something the client doesn’t want other people to know about – like how much money they have, or whether they gave a child up for adoption, or that their mother would make a terrible guardian for their child.  The attorney client privilege is intended to make sure that people feel comfortable telling their attorney all relevant information so that the attorney can give the right legal advice to them.
  2. Attorney-client privilege does NOT protect communications made in order to plan, continue, or cover-up a crime.  If a client confesses a crime to an attorney, that information is covered by attorney-client privilege.  But if the client and attorney discuss how to commit a crime, or if the attorney gives advice on covering up a crime that has already been committed, those communications are not covered by privilege.   An attorney cannot help a person commit a crime, and any communications surrounding such advice or assistance are not protected by privilege.
  3. Attorney-client privilege does NOT apply if the communications aren’t made in a confidential manner.   The attorney-client privilege extends only to communications and information that is intended to be confidential.  If the client discusses information in front of people who are not connected to the representation, it may not be considered confidential.  Talking to or in front of the attorney’s staff is generally the same as talking to the attorney, but if a person discusses information in a public area where others can overhear, that may void the confidentiality.  Clients sometimes want family members to sit in on meetings with their attorney, but doing so might mean that anything discussed in front of the family member loses its attorney-client privilege.

What does this mean for you today?  It means that despite what you may hear in the news, attorney-client privilege is alive and well and will protect your confidential communications with your attorney. This also means that it is safe to answer any questions your attorney needs to ask in order to properly represent you.  If you are hesitant to tell your attorney a sensitive piece of information, ask about confidentiality first and have your attorney explain to you how the privilege works in your specific situation. 

 

How to Rock a Blue Moon

Blue moonIt’s January.  The full moon is January 2 . . . and then on the last day of the month, January 31, we have a second full moon, a Blue Moon.  You know some things only happen once in a Blue Moon, so this month we are celebrating the somewhat rare occurrence of the Blue Moon by encouraging folks to engage in another fairly rare event: the making of a will.

If you don’t have a will, you’ve got plenty of company.  About 60% of adults in the US don’t have one, according to a survey by Caring.com.   Not surprisingly, the percentage of people who do have a will increases with age, but since you have about a 15% chance of dying before the age of 50, having a will earlier rather than later in life is the best choice.  And since the younger you are the less likely you are to have a will, that means that people who have young children are very likely to have no will or any other documents to protect their children if the parents die.

Why don’t most people have a will?  Of those who don’t have one, the number one answer as to why (47%) was that they just hadn’t gotten around to it.  In other words, they had no reason, they simply had not done it.

If you have children, and especially if you have a child with a special need who will never be fully independent, there should be more of a reason to avoid providing for their future care than simply “I haven’t done it yet.”  Whatever your reason for not facing this, we can find a way to overcome it.  The Law Office of Pamela Parker is committed to helping families prepare for the future of their children with special needs, whatever it takes. Tell us what is holding you back, and we’ll help you move around that block.  Under the Blue Moon, anything is possible.

To celebrate the Blue Moon this month, we’ll be posting a new version of either “Blue Moon of Kentucky” or “Blue Moon” every day on our facebook pages:   Texas Residents  Massachusetts Residents

Check it out – and send us a note at legal@parkercounsel.com  or give us a call at 512-804-9934 or 413-203-9358 to rock this Blue Moon with your own estate plan.

The System: Four Keys to Special Needs Planning

bunch of keysHere’s a brief explanation of the Fearless Family Four Keys System to Special Needs Planning:

If your child with a developmental or other type of disability is not going to be able to care for their own personal and financial needs in adulthood, you will need to set up a system that can ensure they are cared for to the end of their life.  That involves preparation in four key areas.

KEY ONE: Build a Community of Caregivers

Your child will need more than one person, more than a guardian, to help them through life.  People have different roles and purposes in your child’s life and all need to be welcomed and “in the loop” on your child on a regular basis.  Be sure to give everyone permission to talk to each other and speak up about your child.

KEY TWO: Financial Supports

Government benefits are the cornerstone for adults who have been disabled since childhood.  SSI cash benefits from social security along with Medicaid will give your child access to a variety of supports designed to allow them to remain living in the community.  Parents and other family members can also provide substantial amounts of money to supplement the government benefits through inheritance, life insurance, and pension benefits, but ONLY if its done the right way.

KEY THREE: Transition Tools

At various points in your child’s life there will be transitions from one caregiver to another.  You must provide the information needed to make that transition a smooth one.  Everything from lists of doctors and medications to contact information for family and friends to the parent’s priorities for the individual’s life should be written down and made easily accessible to anyone who cares for your child.

KEY FOUR: Legal Documents

The best made plans will only work as you intend if you provide the legal documents needed to enforce the plan.  Court sanctioned guardians, special needs trusts with well chosen trustees, designations of agents and other legal planning tools are a must in order to ensure that your plan can work properly.

Parker Counsel special needs law firm can help get you started on this system. Reach us by phone: 833-RED-BOOT (833-733-2668) by email: legal@parkercounsel.com or schedule a short informational call at Calendly.

Guardianship is a choice, but not the way you may think

There are no true “alternatives” to guardianship for a special needs child.  A parent may choose not to seek a guardianship, but for a person who qualifies for a legally appointed guardian, there is no other legal alternative besides simply not having a guardian.

The term “alternatives to guardianship” is used frequently in  estate planning as a means to prepare for the possibility of incapacity later in life, through dementia, alzheimers, or other disease or disability.  By putting in place powers of attorney and other tools, most people can avoid the need to have a guardian appointed for them if they become unable to manage and take care of their own affairs.  This planning process provides an “alternative” to guardianship later in life.

But for children with developmental disabilities, there is no opportunity to prepare in advance.  Those that do not have the ability to manage and take care of their own affairs have never had that ability.  The only question, when they reach age 18, is whether or not they need guardianship.

When a child turns 18, Texas recognizes them as an adult, with all the rights and responsibilities of self-determination that entails.  Mom can no longer insist on coming into the doctor’s office with them, dad can no longer call the school to find out if they are turning in all assignments, and no one other than the child – now adult – can sign or void a contract in their name.

In other words, parents serve merely an advisory role after age 18.  And they serve completely at the discretion of their child.

The problem is, if the child who has turned 18 does not have the ability to understand and make decisions on their own, even with advice, then all the advice in the world may not keep them safe.  If your child has a developmental disability, this can cause serious problems.  If your child’s disability means that they are not able take care of themselves – cannot substantially provide for their own physical, financial and medical care – because they do not have the physical or cognitive ability to do so, then they are at significant risk being out in the world making their own decisions.

If your child is likely to reject medical treatment because they don’t understand the benefits, or if your child is likely to turn over all their money to a scam artist who is willing to take advantage of them because they don’t understand what is happening, or if your child is so impulsive that they may act without even considering the consequences or any previous decision they may have made or advice they have received, your child is at risk without a guardian in place.

People over the age of 18 who have a disability that prevents them from having the ability to understand and manage their own financial, medical, and daily living affairs should have a court appointed guardian who can make sure they are cared for. The guardianship should only cover the areas in which they are unable to function on their own, so a guardianship may be “full” or “partial,” depending on the individual.

There are some situations in which a parent may choose not to seek guardianship over a child who otherwise qualifies.  Those situations work only as long as the child is cooperative or unable to express an opinion, or as long as others accept the situation.  But if a medical office, or a service agency, is uncomfortable letting a parent speak for their incapacitated child without legal authority, then a guardianship is the only way to overcome that problem.

A child turning adult who does have capacity to make their own decisions and care for themselves in one or more areas can enlist others to help them.  This may be an informal arrangement where they simply ask mom or dad for help, or a formal designation of authority by signing a power of attorney, medical power of attorney, and other information releases.  However, the person signing these documents retains their right to conduct their own business, and can revoke or change the documents at any time.   A Supported Decision Making Agreement is another way to formally agree to help and be helped.  It emphasizes to a special needs adult the importance of using the support system he or she has, but it does not provide anything in addition to other formal documents and is not a substitute for guardianship.

For help figuring out what is best for your child, or to get started preparing guardianship or other documents, give us a call at 512-804-9934.

Fearless Family Fund Grants are here!

We are excited to announce a new tool available to help families complete the legal planning that is so critical to taking care of our special needs children.

The Law Office of Pamela Parker now has grants available to offset the cost of obtaining guardianship, and of doing the estate planning and special needs trust creation needed to ensure the continued eligibility of adults with disabilities for SSI, medicaid, and other needs based government benefits.  Grants are also available for one time consultations on special needs issues.

Applying is as simple as filling out an application and certifying that without the grant you would be unable to obtain needed services without significant financial hardship.

Grants are awarded based upon available funds and time.  Grants may be denied or withdrawn if a conflict of interest appears.  Download the application:  Fearless Family Fund Grant Application pdf

Holidays – good or bad?

All parents of special needs children, no matter how old they are, know that the holidays present extra challenges.  Even children and adults who love the holidays can be overwhelmed by the festivities.  Add in families that don’t fully understand the limitations your special needs family may have in participating in family traditions, and it’s easy to let the holiday stress be your focus instead of the holiday fun.  My wish to you this season is to recognize that more people are behind you than you know, and to remember that every family is unique and all traditions, even non-traditions, are valid.

And in that spirit, I share with you my 24yo son’s photo with Santa, taken yesterday at the mall.  Dylan loves Santa, but sitting with him in the middle of a busy mall in front of flashing lights was a little more than he could handle.  Fortunately, Santa looks more amused than annoyed!  img_20161221_160422

Share your own favorite holiday photos below.

Lights!

Today is the anniversary of the invention of the electric light bulb, a monumental moment in the development of modern life.  Personally, I think the invention of the disposable paper nose tissue was the single greatest invention for the improvement of quality of life, but there are no documentaries about it’s origins, so instead I will offer you this 1922 look at a day in the life of Thomas Edison.

Not all your “property” is yours

confused ladyDid you know that some of what you think you own might not actually be yours?

I help people decide what they want to do with their property at their death. I write documents that ensure that their wishes can be carried out.  As part of my job, I ask people about the property they own.  And what I know because of this, is that most people don’t have clue about online property.

It’s important to know what property is yours.  That sounds like an unnecessary statement to make, but we actually have a lot of property that we believe is ours, but that actually is not.  And that can cause you problems. If not now, it can cause problems later on for the people you thought you left the property to at your death.

Almost everyone has digital property. Online accounts for social media, blogs, websites, email are all types of digital property, as well as any files you place on those accounts.  But some of that “property” is not really yours.  Take, for example, a facebook account. Most American adults have a facebook account, and many of us use it as a repository for photographs, as well as an ad hoc diary of our life.  But the account is not actually owned by you.  It is actually owned by Facebook, and they retain nearly all rights to determine if and how you get to keep the account and the files housed there.  The practical effect of this is that when you have personally meaningful files stored there, most commonly photographs, you risk losing access to all of them if you do not have backups on your own computer or storage device, such as a flashdrive, hard disk, or CD.

Cloud storage companies are used by many people for their valuable photo and text files.  Some act simply as a storage service for files that you retain ownership of.  Others may simply be a location to display files but the company has no obligation to make those files accessible to you.

It’s complicated.  You must be absolutely sure you know what you are doing when you upload files to the internet, or you must be absolutely sure that you have those files backed up on storage devices within your possession.

Carelessness with your digital property might mean you actually lose your property completely, or that your loved ones cannot get access to it after your death.

If you have questions about your digital property and how to protect it, call the Austin Texas office of Pamela Parker.