Jennifer L. Lile, President
Jennifer L. Lile, CELA., is a director and shareholder with Krugliak, Wilkins, Griffiths & Dougherty Company, L.P.A., Canton, Ohio. “I was drawn to special needs law through my experiences presiding over guardianship and other disability-related cases as a probate court magistrate,” she explains. “Meeting the families and learning about the issues affecting their lives shaped my choices when I entered private practice.”
Voted one of the “Best Lawyers in America in Elder Law” by Ohio Super Lawyers® (2016 to 2020, consecutively), she is the past board president of the Golden Key Center for Exceptional Children, the Greater East Ohio Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, and the Stark County Bar Association. She is also a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA).
Jennifer frequently speaks before community groups and professional organizations on special needs planning and elder law and has taught legal writing at both Kent State University and the University of Akron Law School. She has been a featured speaker at the American Bar Association’s “Skills Training for Estate Planners” conference in New York on the topic of guardianship law. Her presentations and publications include such topics as “Special Needs Trusts and Tax Issues”; “Estate Planning for a Special Needs Child”; “What Is a Spendthrift Trust?”; “Emergency Guardianship”; and “Preserving an Elder’s Home ─The Caretaker Child Exception.”
She earned a B.S. in secondary English education, summa cum laude, from Kent State University and a J.D., cum laude, from the University of Akron School of Law.
Aside from law, Jennifer enjoys Middle East archaeology and has participated in digs at Bethsaida and Gezer.
Jefferey M. Yussman, President-Elect
Jefferey M. Yussman, with the firm of Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs, LLP, d/b/a Yussman Special Needs Law, 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, gave Jeff a good basis for advising clients about services to consider, and he’s always learning about others from the individuals and families he serves.
“I talk to my clients─and they to me─ 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 in recent years, 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 (and is former board chair) of Wellspring, which provides crisis stabilization, rehabilitation, and housing to persons with mental illness. He is a former board member of the Community Foundation of Louisville, which advises individuals on charitable gifting and planning, and has served on many other boards during his 37-year career.
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®, including being named Estate Planning Lawyer of the Year for 2011 and 2019. 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.
Amy C. O’Hara, Vice President
Amy C. O’Hara, CELA, is a partner with the law firm of Littman Krooks LLP, White Plains, New York and New York City. She focuses on special needs planning, elder law and traditional estate planning and consults on personal injury settlements.
Amy’s interest in special needs planning is longstanding, having entered law school knowing that she wanted to focus on special needs law. She practiced special needs and elder law for a Buffalo law firm before joining Littman Krooks in 2006.
“Today, I’m finding that clients are becoming more comfortable discussing mental illness within the context of special needs planning for their loved ones. Unfortunately, insurance coverage, public funding and social services often fail to adequately address individual needs. Advocacy and proper planning are critical in order to maximize potential benefits and secure proper health care directives.
“I’m also interested in advocating for less restrictive alternatives to guardianship, when appropriate. When a young person turns 18, regardless of any disability they may have, they are legally considered an adult. Traditionally, guardianships have been sought to enable parents or other caregivers to continue their involvement in making health and legal choices for children with intellectual or developmental disabilities. However , with supported decision-making, other legal options that preserve a person’s self-determination and autonomy are often less restrictive and offer similar protections to guardianship.”
Amy is a member of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), Elder Law and Trusts & Estates Sections of the NYSBA, and local bar associations. She is also certified as an elder law attorney (CELA) by the National Elder Law Foundation and a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA).
She lectures frequently to advocacy organizations and families on the importance of proper planning for families of children with special needs. She also publishes articles relating to estate and special needs planning.
She also is a member and incoming President of the board of directors of Westchester Disabled on the Move, Inc., a nonprofit organization that works to improve the quality of life, independence and the rights of all people with disabilities.
Amy earned a Bachelor of Science from Binghamton University and a Juris Doctor degree from University at Buffalo Law School.
Mary E. O’Byrne, Esq., Treasurer
Mary E. O‘Byrne, Esq., heads O‘Byrne Law, LLC, Timonium, Maryland, a practice that focuses on special needs and estate planning, trust and estate administration, and advocacy for people with disabilities. Her career prior to attending law school, in strategic planning and information systems for the health insurance and HMO industries, informs her current work for clients.
“That background adds a dimension to my understanding of families’ struggles to gain access to services and the need to advocate on their behalf when requests are inappropriately denied. I understand how difficult it can be to work with large institutions; my experience gives me an appreciation for the systems in place at government agencies.” Her financial training enables her to assist clients with cost projections and funding issues as they plan for a loved one’s economic security.
Mary was instrumental in brokering a dialogue between the Social Security Administration and a team of advocates, including SNA members and pooled trust representatives. “We helped Social Security better understand the impact on beneficiaries and their families of its rulemaking with regard to special needs trusts (SNTs),” she explains. “We successfully advocated for administrative changes that are more aligned with the intent of Congress when it originally passed SNT legislation.”
Mary is also deeply interested in increasing the availability of accessible, affordable housing for people with disabilities. “There’s a growing crisis nationwide, with people parked on waiting lists for years at a time.”
She was the first executive director and trustee of First Maryland Disability Trust, a pooled SNT. She speaks frequently to professionals and lay groups on special needs and estate planning. She is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). She is currently the president of the board of NAMI-Metro Baltimore (National Alliance on Mental Illness).
She earned a B.A. from Yale College, an M.B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a J.D., with a certificate in health care law, from the University of Maryland School of Law.
James A. Caffry, Secretary
James A. Caffry opened Caffry Law, PLLC in 2011 in Waterbury, Vermont. He began focusing his practice on special needs law a dozen years into his career, after his son was diagnosed with autism.
“After our son’s diagnosis, and the arrival of our second daughter, my wife and I began updating our own estate planning. I realized then how much more complicated our planning would be and how many Vermont families were in similar situations. That’s when I began to transition my law practice to special needs planning, and now I concentrate on that almost exclusively.”
Jim is currently a parent member of the Vermont Developmental Disabilities Payment Reform Initiative for Home and Community Based Services. He’s a past member of the board of Champlain Community Services (a direct service provider for individuals with developmental disabilities), the Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council, and the Vermont Autism Task Force.
He is a frequent presenter on special needs planning matters for family support organizations and disability service provider agencies, and he has taught numerous continuing education courses to Vermont lawyers, bankers and financial planning professionals.
Jim is a member of the Vermont Bar Association and the American Bar Association. He earned a J.D. (cum laude) from Albany Law School, a Masters of Environmental Law (magna cum laude) from Vermont Law School and a B.A. in history from Colgate University.
Robert Fechtman, Immediate Past President
Robert Fechtman, CELA, who practices special needs and elder law in Indianapolis, Indiana, started his law practice just as the federal law creating special needs trusts (SNTs) was enacted in the early nineties. “I guess you could say I got in on the ground floor,” he says.
In addition to helping families build financial security for their loved ones with special needs, he acts as trustee for many SNTs. “I spend about half my time on trustee matters, which takes my involvement to a much deeper level,” he notes, “making ongoing care decisions that enable people with disabilities to lead rewarding lives. It’s an honor and responsibility that I take very seriously.”
Robert is the immediate past president of the Estate Planning and Administration section of the Indianapolis Bar Association. A member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), he has served as president of the Indiana chapter and been named “Outstanding Member from Indiana.” He is currently on the board of the National Elder Law Foundation.
Robert earned a J.D. from Rutgers School of Law, in addition to attending the University of San Diego’s Institute on International and Comparative Law at Magdalen College, Oxford University. He graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in music and a major in economics. He is president of the Indianapolis Children’s Choir board.
Robert F. Brogan
Robert F. (Bob) Brogan, CELA, is president of the Brogan Law Group in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. He began by building a practice focused on elder law, but was influenced by his wife’s experiences as a speech pathologist to expand his work to include special needs. “Jen worked for a local Arc chapter and was very involved in early intervention for kids with serious physical disabilities. I was impressed by the difference she made in people’s lives, and there are lots of similarities between elder and special needs law, so it was a logical transition.”
Bob explains that he’s driven by a desire to make the public benefits system “fair.” “It’s immensely confusing,” he says. “There are so many gates to pass through in order to establish eligibility and so many potential pitfalls. It’s like running a gauntlet.” A strong believer in individual rights, he promotes self-advocacy in his dealings with families. “Too often, guardianship is pushed as a solution when far less restrictive powers of attorney and advance directives will preserve both a person’s security and independence.”
His interest in public policy dates from early in his career, when he was a congressional aide handling press relations. He is a nationally respected authority on Medicaid and health care policy and is co-chair of SNA’s Public Policy Committee. He has lobbied for change at the state and federal levels and has twice received the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Legislative Service Award.
He belongs to the Council of Advanced Practitioners (CAP), an invitation-only organization of innovators in the areas of elder and special needs law; has served on the board of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA); and is past chair of the Elder and Disability Law Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association.
Bob has been cited as a Super Lawyer each year since 2008, is A-V Rated by Martindale-Hubbell, and taught a law and aging course at the Georgetown Law Center in Washington, D.C. He earned a B.A. in journalism from Rutgers College and a J.D. from Rutgers Law School-Camden. He is presently pursuing an LL.M. in tax at the Villanova School of Law.
He attributes much of his success to wife Jen, who home schools their eight children.
Laurie Hanson, Esq., Long, Reher, Hanson, & Price P.A., in Minneapolis, first became involved with the disability community in the eighth grade, as a volunteer. “I’d help students with special needs with their lessons and generally assist them throughout the day,” she remembers. “I developed a close relationship with a girl who had severe autism and was nonverbal, and we’d spend time together on weekends. It was an eye-opening experience.”
Much of Laurie’s early career focused on elder law, but the overlap with special needs law was apparent. She spent nearly 15 years with the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis, where she led the Senior Law Project, dealing with health law, public benefits and caregiver custody. “Seniors who were raising grandchildren with special needs would bring them along to our meetings,” she says. “I’d discover that they didn’t have legal custody of the children, which prevented them from working on their behalf with the schools and their Individual Education Plans.”
When she became a partner with Long, Reher & Hanson she shifted to an exclusive focus on planning for those who are aging or living with disabilities.
Laurie is especially concerned about the high unemployment rate for those with disabilities. “Recent research points to continuing discrimination,” she remarks, “and a lot more needs to be done to prepare and support the many individuals with special needs who are seeking careers.”
She is licensed to practice law in Minnesota, is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), is past chair of the Elder Law Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association, and has been named a Super Lawyer by her peers consistently since 2001. She is a member of the Board of Trustees for the Upper Midwest Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
She earned a B.A.in Economics and German from the University of Wisconsin and a J.D. from the Golden Gate University School of Law.
Mary Alice Jackson
Mary Alice Jackson, of Mary Alice Jackson P.C., practices special needs and elder law in Austin, Texas, and is also licensed Florida. She is intensely interested in public policy as it affects seniors and individuals with disabilities.
“I’m increasingly frustrated with the current dialogue concerning Medicaid, both at the state and federal levels. There’s no question that the allocation of federal and state dollars is a challenging process. However, our society cannot be known as one which is so deeply insensitive to the needs of individuals who are truly ill, frightened and financially dependent on Medicaid. We need to work hard to create the way to care for one another, in which all contribute their fair share. None of us has the freedom to be an ostrich.
“I empathize with many of the challenges that my clients face,” she continues. “My son became ill when he was 14 years old and passed away when he was 15. I know what it’s like to struggle to help your child, to advocate, be a caregiver, and to face the unknown. The entire experience has had a profound effect on me. So many of my clients are amazing─ whether family members or the individuals with disabilities. Many sow’s ears have been replaced by silk purses.”
Mary Alice is active on the Public Policy Committees of both SNA and NAELA (National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys). She is a NAELA Fellow and belongs to Texas NAELA.
She has been recognized with the Florida Bar Pro Bono Service Award, the William Reece Smith Jr. Public Service Award, the NAELA Powley Award for public service, and the Theresa Award for “above and beyond” advocacy on behalf of individuals with special needs. She has been named a Florida Super Lawyer annually since 2007, a Texas Super Lawyer since 2015, and is AV rated by Martindale Hubbell.
Mary Alice earned a J.D., cum laude, from Stetson University College of Law, where she has been an adjunct professor in the Elder Law LL.M. program since its inception in 2007. She currently teaches a course in long-term care planning. She also has a B.S. in government and an M.S. in public administration from Florida State University.
Morris Klein, CELA, Bethesda, Maryland, became a special needs attorney through a “natural evolution” of his elder law practice. “I became interested in elder law when my mother developed Alzheimer’s in the 1990s,” he explains, “and over time, I began serving younger clients with disabilities, who faced many of the same public benefit challenges that my older clients did.”
In addition to his private practice, Morris works for regulatory and legislative change regarding Medicaid, Social Security, Medicare and other issues of concern to the special needs community. As co-chair of SNA’s Public Policy Committee, he has been particularly active in advocating for improvements to public benefit programs as they pertain to special needs trusts (SNTs).
He was one of the original board directors for the First Maryland Disability Trust, a nonprofit that administers a pooled SNT for individuals with special needs. He also served two terms as chair of what is now called the Maryland State Bar Association Elder Law and Disability Rights Section and has been on its section council since 1997. He was on the steering committee of the District of Columbia Estate Trusts and Probate Section, including two years as co-chair.
Morris has served on the board of the National Capital Area Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and teaches continuing legal education programs for the Maryland Bar and other organizations. He was also on the board of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) and served as president of NAELA’s Maryland/D.C. Chapter.
He has published articles on Medicaid, elder law and estate planning for the Maryland Bar Journal and the NAELA Journal.
Morris is recognized as a “Super Lawyer” in both Maryland and the District of Columbia. He earned a master’s degree in public policy and a J.D. from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
Tara Anne Pleat
Tara Anne Pleat, CELA., co-owns the law firm Wilcenski & Pleat PLLC, with offices in Clifton Park and Queensbury, New York. She focuses on special needs and traditional estate planning and administration, as well as long-term care planning.
After graduating from the State University of New York at Albany, Tara discovered how much she enjoyed working with families as an estate planning paralegal. Law school was the natural next step. Shortly after earning her law degree from Albany Law School, she joined her current firm, where she was introduced to special needs law.
“Several years ago, my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, and my family’s experiences have deepened my understanding of the challenges faced by clients,” she says. “I recognize the limitations of Medicaid funding and the need to vigorously advocate for better services.”
Tara serves as a board member for AIM Services, Inc., which offers a broad range of supports to individuals with disabilities. “My perspective as a special needs attorney helps to clarify government policies, especially funding and reimbursement,” she explains. “That way we can better focus our resources.”
She’s also on the Planned Giving Committee for the Wildwood Foundation, which funds a school for children with disabilities, as well as services for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities of all ages. ”Given cutbacks in government programs, nonprofits are increasingly recognizing the need to build public/private partnerships. My goal on this committee is to help connect Wildwood to other professionals who can broaden awareness of the work they’re doing.”
Tara is a member of the Arc New York’s guardianship committee, which sets statewide practices. She also participates in a group that advises on New York’s supported decision-making pilot program, which seeks to provide an alternative to guardianship for many individuals.
She is an adjunct professor of law at Albany Law School, where she teaches a course on estate and financial planning for individuals with special needs and the elderly. “I want my students to recognize the important safety net provided by public benefits,” she says. “They need to understand how the system should work versus the reality, so that they can empathize with clients. And they need to be able to make the incredibly complex subject matter understandable to their future clients.”
She chairs the Elder Law and Special Needs Section of the New York State Bar Association; is an active member of the Trusts & Estates Law Section of the New York State Bar Association; a member of the Estate Planning Council of Eastern New York, Inc. (serving as president for the 2013/2014 year); a fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC); a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA); and co-chair of SNA’s Publications Committee.
Tara is admitted to practice in New York, Florida, and Massachusetts, as well as the United States Tax Court and the U.S. Federal District Court in the Northern District of New York.
Bryn Poland, Esq., is a partner with Mayo & Poland, PLLC, Baytown, Texas. She focuses her practice on special needs trusts and administration, qualified settlement funds and estate planning.
She was inspired to become an elder law attorney when she watched her family struggle with care options for her great grandmother, Lulu Sleeper, who lived to the age of 109. “I became involved with special needs law when I joined my current firm in 2007, and I love it! I get to work a lot with kids, and I find it personally fulfilling to help families prepare for the future.”
Bryn is especially interested in services designed for children with autism and is a new board member of the Bay Area Rehabilitation Center, which offers therapies for kids and young adults. “I’m hoping to become very involved in developing new programs, attending family meetings and helping them make decisions.” She has worked with the Arc of Texas on several “Wings for All” events, designed to acquaint individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities with airline travel.
She is licensed to practice law in Texas and Kansas, and is a member of the Texas Bar Association, Kansas Bar Association, National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) and the Society of Settlement Planners.
She received a B.S. in journalism from Kansas State University and a J.D. from Washburn University School of Law.
Christopher W. Smith
Christopher W. Smith, Esq., of Chalgian & Tripp Law Offices, PLLC, Southfield, Michigan, focuses his practice on special needs, elder law and traditional estate planning. He is licensed to practice law in Michigan.
Christopher’s interest in special needs law is grounded in personal experience. He has a sister with Down syndrome, and he remembers listening at the age of 10 to his attorney father address a conference on special needs law during the discipline’s infancy. “I grew up knowing the personal challenges faced by families with special needs and recognizing how legislators, regulators and advocates were struggling to serve them adequately. I wanted to help find solutions.”
Christopher was the chair of the Elder Law and Disability Rights Section of the State Bar of Michigan and still chairs its legislative committee. He also serves on the Michigan Attorney General’s Elder Abuse Task Force. In addition, he has volunteered time to the Elder Law and Advocacy Center at Wayne County Neighborhood Legal Services, as a guardianship reviewer for the Oakland County Michigan Probate Court and as a counselor for the Medicare Medicaid Assistance Program in Wayne, Michigan.
He has been named a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyer Magazine (Indiana edition: 2009-2010; Michigan edition: 2012-2017).
He frequently speaks and writes on aspects of special needs planning, such as special needs trusts, the ABLE Act, government benefits and guardianship. He places a particular focus on Medicare.
Christopher graduated from Indiana University Maurer School of Law (Magna Cum Laude, Order of the Coif), where he was managing editor of the Indiana Law Journal. Prior to law school, he majored in business and history at the University of Virginia and worked in finance for Procter & Gamble.
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.”
He has been a Special Olympics coach for the past 15 years and proudly points to leading his basketball team to state-level gold medals in 2007, 2015, 2017, and 2018.
Scott serves on the board of The Arc of Hawaii and 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.