Pi-Yi Mayo, President
Pi-Yi Mayo practices special needs and elder law in Baytown, Texas (www.pi-yimayo.com). "The work I do is about families," he stresses. "When I help a person with disabilities, I'm almost always affecting the lives of parents, grandparents, and siblings, too."
Pi-Yi explains that the ability to analyze the interaction of personal assets and a wide array of public benefit programs—and to understand the sometimes circuitous workings of government agencies—enables special needs attorneys to solve problems that may have long frustrated clients.
"I sometimes see parents who have already been to half a dozen attorneys. One woman drove two and half hours to see me and brought along two other lawyers and a financial planner. At the end of an hour, I was able to assure her that she wasn't going to lose her assets."
Pi-Yi also works with veterans. He describes a situation in which the widow of a Viet Nam era vet was having problems with her disability and pension claims. "Lots of people don't know what VA benefits they're eligible for," he explains. "I was able to do a lot more than sort out the problems she brought to me. She had a daughter with a disability, too, and I pointed out that the child had second-generation eligibility for her father's disability benefits. Then we created a special needs trust to protect those funds so that they wouldn't disqualify her for other government programs. Many VA attorneys would have been unaware of the special needs implications of the case."
A member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and certified as an Elder Law Attorney (CELA) by the National Elder Law Foundation, Pi-Yi is also accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs. He earned a B.A., magna cum laude, from the University of Houston and a law degree from Bates College of Law at University of Houston.
Marielle F. Hazen, President-Elect
Marielle F. Hazen, who practices special needs, estate planning and elder law in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, (www.hazenelderlaw.com) first became involved with disability issues while working summers during college at an Easter Seal Society camp for children and adults with disabilities. "That's when I began learning about the challenges faced by families whose loved ones have special needs," she says. "I heard many stories from the campers and their families about the challenges they faced, and I started to understand the importance of advocacy."
Marielle built upon that experience during law school, where she studied under Lawrence A. Frolik, a nationally recognized authority on special needs and elder law. "During my last year of school, I participated in an elder law clinic that was the first of its kind in the nation. We represented alleged incapacitated individuals to safeguard their rights in guardianship proceedings. It was natural that my own practice would focus on the areas of special needs and elder law.
"I'm especially drawn to public policy and have made several trips to Washington, D.C., on behalf of the Special Needs Alliance and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys to advocate on issues impacting individuals with disabilities. It's important to me to give voice to the issues that I hear about every day from my clients."
She has also played an active role in advocacy at the state level, sometimes testifying at legislative hearings or committee meetings about issues affecting special needs trusts, eligibility criteria for public benefit programs, assisted living regulations, guardianships, and end-of-life decision-making.
Marielle is certified as an elder law attorney (CELA) by the National Elder Law Foundation and is the immediate past president of the Pennsylvania Association of Elder Law Attorneys. In 2010 she received the Excellence in Elder Law Award from the Pennsylvania Bar Association. She is a frequent lecturer for the Pennsylvania Bar Institute's continuing legal education seminars on special needs and elder law topics. She has been selected by her peers as a "Super Lawyer," one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Pennsylvania, and one of the "Best Lawyers in America."
Marielle earned a B.A. in economics from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she graduated magna cum laude, and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.
Richard A. Courtney, Vice President
Richard ("Rick") A. Courtney, founding partner of Frascogna Courtney, PLLC, Jackson, Mississippi, became active in the special needs community when one of his daughters was diagnosed with cerebral palsy over 30 years ago. As he explored the public benefits system on behalf of his family, it was natural that he expand his estate planning practice to include the special requirements of families whose loved ones have disabilities. Over the years, his activities have evolved to include seniors with disabilities and working with personal injury and family law attorneys to ensure that settlements do not interfere with clients' eligibility for government programs.
"I am especially concerned about the waiting lists in Mississippi for home - and community-based services for individuals with disabilities," he says. "There's an emphasis in this state on institutionalization and not enough housing and transportation alternatives. People with disabilities want to be part of the community and this is a serious obstacle to their independence."
Rick has served as past president and director of the Cerebral Palsy Foundation of Mississippi, Inc., helping families pay for equipment and therapeutic services; as president of the Advisory Board of Hospice Ministries Inc., which is the only in-patient facility of its kind in Mississippi; as director of the Heritage School for children with learning disabilities; and as a member of the Occupational Therapy Council of Advisors for the state's department of health.
At the Special Needs Alliance, Rick serves on the Membership Committee, which seeks qualified attorneys throughout the country who serve the disability community and who wish to become SNA members.
He is an alumnus of Mississippi College and the University of Mississippi School of Law, where he served as assistant dean and adjunct professor of law. He was the first attorney in the state to be designated a Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) by the National Elder Law Foundation and is a fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC). In 2009, Rick received the 15th annual Theresa Award from the New York-based Theresa Foundation for community service and professional advocacy on behalf of children and adults with special needs.
Bradley J. Frigon, Treasurer
Bradley J. Frigon, who practices tax, special needs, trust and estates, and elder law in Denver, Colorado, (www.bjflaw.com) believes in the power of collaboration. "All members of the Special Needs Alliance are highly experienced in special needs law, and we regularly call upon each other for advice concerning unusual legal situations. If something groundbreaking is happening in California, we discuss it, and then I'm better prepared if I encounter that situation locally. That's really what the Special Needs Alliance is about: attorneys committed to sharing information in order to better serve families with special needs."
Brad stresses the complexity of providing for a loved one with special needs. "Unfortunately, good intentions aren't enough. Trust law, public benefits, and tax regulations entwine in the creation of a solid special needs trust. What's more, developing a single document—even a really good one—isn't enough to build security for a child with special needs. You need to consider guardianship, the selection and monitoring of the trustee(s), a letter of intent, and even more."
Brad was appointed by the governor to serve on the Colorado Advisory Council for People with Disabilities. In that capacity, he advises the governor's office on issues affecting individuals with special needs. He is also a board member for the Colorado Fund for People with Disabilities, a non-profit charitable organization that administers pooled trusts for people with disabilities. In addition, he is a Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) through the National Elder Law Foundation and an officer of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.
Brad earned a master of law in taxation from the University of Denver; a Juris Doctor from Washburn University School of Law; and a bachelor of arts from the University of Kansas.
Scott Suzuki, Secretary
Prior to attending law school, Scott Suzuki was a gerontologist at the Scripps Gerontology Center and the Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio during the Clinton Administration. At the close of the administration, he attended the University of Hawaii, where he graduated in the top tier of his class with a J.D. and concurrently completed a Master of Public Health degree in gerontology.
"Special needs law was a logical extension," he explains. "I realized that many of the issues facing seniors were familiar to me from a time when a close relative had been seriously injured in a car accident—the worries, the confusion about resources. I recognized that special needs law offered a great opportunity to provide services having the potential to change lives."
Scott has been a Special Olympics coach for the past 11 years, devoting four hours each week to coaching individuals of all ages in basketball, track and field, and softball. "My youngest athlete is about seven, while the oldest is in his late forties. Three years ago, we won a gold for basketball at the state level—that had to be one of my proudest moments. When we began, our team didn’t know how to dribble. But each year they improved until they were the best in Hawaii."
Scott is a founding member of Aloha Independent Living Hawaii; former vice president of Family Voices, which facilitates community-based, family-centered care for children with special needs; and a longtime volunteer with the University of Hawaii Elder Law Program.
Janet L. Lowder, Immediate Past President
Janet L. Lowder, a partner with the firm of Hickman & Lowder in Cleveland, Ohio, (www.hickman-lowder.com) has devoted her career to protecting the legal rights of individuals with disabilities.
After graduating from law school, she began working with a small firm made up of former Legal Aid attorneys. She and her partner, Franklin Hickman, were determined to create a nonprofit to assist people who were unable to pay for the professional management of special needs trusts for their loved ones. The Community Fund Management Foundation, established in 1993, was one of the first organizations of its kind in the nation. Janet was recognized with the 2000 Top Hat Award from the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities for the "thousands" of volunteer hours she has devoted to it.
She is also committed to the work of the Bioethics Committee of Hattie Larlham, a nonprofit serving children with profound developmental disabilities. "In that capacity, I have helped to make decisions for people who may not have family members to advocate for them. I am honored to be entrusted with that responsibility, and it has profoundly shaped my awareness of issues relating to quality of life for individuals with severe developmental disabilities.
"The type of law that I practice is incredibly rewarding. The families I work with are so resilient and accepting. It means a lot to me that when they call our law firm with a question, they know we’re going to find the answer for them."
Janet is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) by the National Elder Law Foundation. She has been named one of Ohio’s Super Lawyers and has been listed in Best Lawyers in America since 2005. She was recognized as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Ohio in 2005 and 2006.
Janet received her law degree, summa cum laude, from Cleveland Marshall College of Law.
Martha C. Brown
Martha C. Brown, St. Louis, Missouri, has been practicing law for over 25 years. As a pioneer in the field of elder law, her interest in special needs evolved naturally.
Active with local social service organizations, Martha has contributed both legal expertise and fundraising acumen. Since she became a board member for the Association for Aging with Developmental Disabilities, the organization's annual budget has risen to one million dollars. As a board member for the local chapter of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), she obtained invitations to an internationally renowned singer's backstage parties for auctioning at the organization's annual gala.
She's also on the boards of the Mid-East Area Agency on Aging and the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program for Eastern Missouri, where she advocates for nursing home residents. Her efforts to promote understanding of the rights and needs of seniors and persons with special needs were recognized in 2008 with NAELA's (National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys) Powley Award.
Martha is a Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) through the National Elder Law Foundation and a fellow of both ACTEC (American College of Trust and Estate Counsel) and NAELA. She has been named a Missouri and Kansas Super Lawyer annually since 2006. She earned her J.D. from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Katherine N. Barr
Katherine N. Barr, a shareholder at Sirote & Permutt, P.C.'s, office in Birmingham, Alabama, dates her involvement with the special needs community from summers spent volunteering at a residential facility for individuals with developmental disabilities. As an estate planning attorney, the focus of much of her law practice involves planning for individuals with special needs to obtain and preserve government benefits eligibility.
Katherine spends much of her free time helping with advocacy matters for individuals with special needs and serving on the boards of directors of two local 501(c)(3) charities that serve this population.
She is very active on the board of VSA Alabama, a non-profit affiliated with the J.F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, which sponsors creative opportunities for individuals with disabilities. "The arts are so empowering," says Katherine. "I love seeing the art VSA clients create while working with local artists. I've filled my office and home with wonderful paintings from VSA art auctions."
Katherine also serves on the board of Triumph Services, a non-profit that provides services to individuals with special needs to help them live as independently as possible. In addition, she is on the advisory boards of Camp ASCCA, a nationally recognized year- round camp for children and adults with disabilities that is sponsored by Easter Seals, and the Alabama Family Trust, a pooled trust for persons with special needs.
A fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, Katherine has been selected as an Alabama Super Lawyer for the past five years and has been listed in the Best Lawyers in America since 2008. She is past chair of the American Bar Association's (ABA) Committee on Long-Term Care, Medicaid and Special Needs Trusts and presently serves on the Governing Council of the ABA's Section of Real Property, Trust & Estates Law. Katherine received her J.D. cum laude from Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham.
Ann N. Butenhof
Ann N. Butenhof, CELA, of Butenhof & Bomster, PC, Manchester, New Hampshire, originally planned to be a social worker. "I'd worked in a residential facility for children with behavioral problems, but when one of my professors suggested the equivalent of a joint law degree and master's in social work, it seemed the perfect combination. The counseling skills I developed through my interest in social work have added an important dimension to my practice of law."
Ann began her legal career with a nonprofit that represented low-income and elderly individuals. After working on a high-profile class action suit, she had an opportunity to enter a private elder law practice, and she soon broadened her focus to include special needs. "At the time, there were few attorneys in New Hampshire who were knowledgeable about special needs trusts (SNTs), and my public benefits background was a good fit." Ann is also known from her experience with guardianships, estate planning and long-term care planning.
"The ongoing change in this area of the law makes it especially challenging. But I love being able to give my clients concrete assistance, to be able to help them identify resources in the community."
Ann is on the board of the New Hampshire Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). "I'm particularly sensitive to the challenges faced by sibling trustees. With mental illness, there's often an additional layer of complexity."
She cites the advantage of being able to refer clients who are relocating to SNA members throughout the country. "This is a mobile society and moving can be especially wrenching for families with special needs. I feel comfortable handing the baton to SNA colleagues who are steeped in an area of law that most attorneys know little about."
Ann has been recognized as a New England "Super Lawyer" every year since 2007 and is a fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. She was the first president of the New Hampshire Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). She is also accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs to handle claims for veteran benefits.
She received her B.A. from Lake Forest College and her J.D./M.S.S.A. (magna cum laude and Order of the Coif) from Case Western Reserve University.
Robert B. Fleming
Robert B. Fleming, CELA, Fleming & Curti, PLC, Tucson, Arizona, was a founding member of the Special Needs Alliance. "At the time, there was no attorney organization at the national level that focused on younger individuals with disabilities," he explains.
His interest in special needs was a natural outgrowth of his involvement with elder law. "I first learned about special needs trusts (SNTs) while working on a case where the personal injury settlement was insufficient to address the plaintiffs' long-term needs at the same time that it rendered them ineligible for public benefits. It was a formative experience."
"I'm trustee for a number of SNTs, so I get very involved in day-to-day issues, and I'm frustrated by the rigidity of many state regulations. Sometimes administrators make rulings that are unnecessarily narrow, that end up hurting individuals and actually costing the state more money. It's satisfying when I can enlarge the dialogue to the benefit of both sides."
Robert finds the information-sharing aspect of SNA particularly helpful. "When you discover that others are grappling with some of the same issues that you are, it's enormously useful. On the other hand, it's great to be able to spot trends before something surfaces in your own practice." His practice focuses on trust administration, guardianship, conservatorship, estate planning and probate.
Robert has co-authored The Elder Law Answer Book and New Times, New Challenges: Law and Advice for Savvy Seniors and Their Families. He's a past president of the National Elder Law Foundation and a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.
He is also a husband, father, scuba diver, pilot and martial arts practitioner. "You're more than what you do for a living," he remarks. "And what you do with the rest of your time definitely informs your work."
Brian N. Rubin
Brian N. Rubin, of Brian Rubin and Associates, Buffalo Grove, Illinois, limits his practice to "special needs future planning." He cites the 1981 birth of son Mitchell, who has autism, as a personal fork in the road. "Mitchell has enabled my family to better appreciate what’s truly important in life, and because of him, I spend each day assisting other families with special needs. For me, it’s a mission.
"I tell them that our work isn’t about documents, it’s about relationships. Because the entire family is affected when someone has special needs. I help them navigate the system, write letters of intent, adjust when their child moves out of the family home."
Brian is a tireless volunteer. He is president of The Arc of Illinois and a board member of Clearbrook, an agency that serves over 3,500 individuals with disabilities. He speaks proudly of his work with community-based residences and of kids who grow up knowing that people with disabilities make great neighbors.
A village trustee for 13 years, he was instrumental in developing an enhanced 911 service for people with special needs. He works with the state’s Quality Care Board to ensure prompt, thorough investigations of neglect and abuse allegations. And as co-chairman of the Illinois legislature’s Autism Taskforce, he focuses on the need for early intervention.
At the Special Needs Alliance, he chairs the Affiliations Committee, which partners with other national organizations that serve individuals with disabilities.
Brian received a J.D. from Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology, and a B.S. in accounting from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Kelly A. Thompson
Kelly A. Thompson, Esq. who practices in Arlington, Virginia, had been in estate planning for 17 years when her best friend gave birth to a child with serious developmental disabilities. "I started learning about special needs law to help her but quickly became fascinated." Soon after, she adopted a child with a hearing disability and became even more involved. "Spending time in speech and language therapy waiting rooms, I'd strike up conversations with other parents. That's how I discovered the work that I love so much." She is a strong supporter of other parents who have adopted children with special needs.
Kelly works extensively with military families who have loved ones with disabilities. "The frequent relocations that are part of a service family's lifestyle are enormously disruptive to the care plans of children with special needs. They're also unable to roll survivor benefits into special needs trusts. I've actively spread the word about these issues to my SNA colleagues, and we've advocated for changes."
She is an active community volunteer, having served as counsel for The ARC of Northern Virginia for 17 years, most on a pro bono basis. "They called to ask for my help in creating a pooled special needs trust, and I've been involved ever since."
She became involved with the Northern Virginia Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association after caring for a grandmother with the disease. "I served as treasurer, then president, during a time of enormous organizational growth. They were transitioning from "families around the kitchen table" to the hiring of an executive director. It was rewarding to be a part of that, especially since so many of my clients are dealing with Alzheimer's."
Kelly earned a N.A. from the University of Virginia and a J.D. from Fordham University School of Law. She is a member of the Virginia, District of Columbia and New York bars.
Jefferey M. Yussman
Jefferey M. Yussman, with the firm of Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs, LLP, in Louisville, Kentucky, gravitated to special needs law while investigating the resources available to his two children with disabilities.
"Sorting through the options was overwhelming," he remembers. "There’s no good clearinghouse that families can go to in order to get all the information they need."
Nearly three decades of volunteer work for the local chapter of United Way, with its 97 member agencies, have since given him a good basis for advising clients about services to consider.
"I talk to my clients about so much more than legal issues. Because they know I understand what they’re facing, we talk about education, the transition to adulthood, living arrangements—all the issues so central to families dealing with special needs."
He notes that, since the recession, there’s been tremendous pressure on government programs that have been instrumental in providing quality of life for individuals with disabilities. "We need to be advocates for those unable to speak for themselves," he says.
Jeff is on the board of Wellspring, which provides crisis stabilization, rehabilitation, and housing to persons with mental illness. He is also a board member with the Community Foundation of Louisville, which advises individuals on charitable gifting and planning.
He is a fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC) and has been recognized in both Kentucky Super Lawyers® and Best Lawyers in America®. He received a J.D. from the University of Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law and a B.S. in accounting from the University of Kentucky.
Click here to read about Jeff Yussman in Louisville Business First.