The Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District hosted a workshop for parents of children with special needs on Tuesday night to address legal and financial preparations.
The workshop, held at Calhoun High School, was directed by Cheryl Gitlitz, the district's transition coordinator, and featured Mitchell Weisbrot and Andrew M. Cohen, who both spoke about planning for the future of special needs children.
Weisbrot, a financial representative for Northwestern Mutual Financial Network, began his discourse by telling the audience that on Feb. 14, 1998, his wife gave birth to twin boys.
After seven months, Weisbrot started worrying about the development of his children and eventually found out that they both had autism, a circumstance that was difficult for him and his wife. He later mentioned that in addition to his twins, he has another son who also has autism.
"You could stick your head in the sand in mourning," Weisbrot said, "or you could act and try to make these kids' lives the best they can be."
Weisbrot advised parents of special needs children to remove all money from their child's name. If the child has any money in their name, they will be ineligible for government assistant programs available to them once they turn 18, he said.
Weisbrot added that if the child is the beneficiary of a life insurance policy or will, then they will also be deemed ineligible for the program. Instead, he advocated for investment in a special needs trust which allows the children to stay eligible for government aid, but provides them with extra money to "make their life the best as possible."
Cohen, an attorney, mainly talked about the legal implications for special needs children. Like Weisbrot, Cohen also has a special needs child. He emphasized that inheritance for a special needs child wasn't favorable because it would disqualify them for government support.
Cohen also mentioned the different kinds of guardianship that parents and their children could be eligible for once the child turned 18. According to Cohen, once the child reaches age 18, the government assumes that they are capable of making health and financial-related decisions.
However, Cohen said parents with special needs children are able to apply for guardianship that allows them to continue making those decisions for their children after the age of 18. Cohen mentioned two types of guardianship: Article 81 guardianship and 17A guardianship.
Article 81 included a full hearing, while 17A guardianship provided a simpler means of prolonging guardianship. Under 17A guardianship, the parents are required to go to a surrogate's court without the need for an attorney. The parents would present their case to the judge who would speak with the child and make the decision. However, Cohen stated that 17A guardianship was an "all or nothing deal" in which the parents would have control over all the children's financial and health related decisions.
Cohen and Weisbrot both emphasized the need for continuous education in order to help improve the lives of children with special needs. They also complimented the high school district's efforts in that area.
"You guys are fortunate to have Cheryl because she is so dedicated to helping your children," Weisbrot told the parents gathered in the conference room.
The district will host the Office of Mental Retardation and Development Disabilities (OMRDD) Road Show on Tuesday, May 11. The event will provide parents with information on family support services, recreation services and supported employment amongst many other topics.