Special Needs Alliance Board of Directors
Robert Fechtman, 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 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 cuirrently 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-elect of
the Indianapolis Children’s Choir board.
Jennifer L. Lile, President-Elect
Jennifer L. Lile, Esq., 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.”
Cited in 2010 as a “top attorney under 40” by Ohio Super Lawyers®, she is board president for the Golden Key Center for Exceptional Children, past board president of the Greater East Ohio Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and an officer of 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, Gezer and Jerusalem.
Mary E. O’Byrne, Esq., Vice President
Mary E. O‘Byrne, Esq., heads O‘Byrne Law, LLC, Lutherville, Maryland, a practice that focuses on special needs, estate planning 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 has been instrumental in brokering a dialogue between the Social Security Administration and a team of advocates, including SNA members and pooled trust representatives. “We’re helping Social Security better understand the impact on beneficiaries and their families of its rulemaking with regard to special needs trusts (SNTs),” she explains. “We’re trying to promote 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, where she continues to serve as special counsel. 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 also serves as vice-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.
Jefferey M. Yussman, Treasurer
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 36-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.
Click here to read about Jeff Yussman in Louisville Business First.
Laurie Hanson, Secretary
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, California and Arkansas, 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 serves as secretary of 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.
Brian N. Rubin, Immediate Past President
Brian N. Rubin, of Rubin Law, A Professional Corporation, with offices in Chicago, Skokie and Buffalo Grove, Illinois, limits his practice to “special needs future planning.” He cites the birth of son Mitchell in 1981, 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 immediate past president of The Arc of Illinois and has been a board member of Clearbrook, an agency that serves over 8,000 individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities , since 1989 . He speaks proudly of his work with community-based residences and of kids who grow up knowing that people with disabilities make great neighbors.
He is a commissioner with the Illinois Guardianship & Advocacy Commission and has served as chairman of the State of Illinois Advisory Council on Developmental Disabilities and the Illinois legislature’s Autism Taskforce. Brian has been elected a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC). He 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.
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.
James A. Caffry
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.
Julian E. Gray
Julian E. Gray, CELA, is founder and managing attorney of Julian Gray Associates, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For over 20 years, he has devoted the practice to elder law and special needs planning, with an emphasis on catastrophic injury settlements.
“My very first client engagement was in elder law, and as the years went by, I realized that my work, which combines estate planning and disability law, could benefit a broader population. People with special needs face so many roadblocks to their independence and social inclusion, and there’s a real lack of quality information about the resources available to them. Addressing that gap is what motivates me.”
Julian stresses that personal injury attorneys should work closely with their special needs counterparts from the beginning of a case. “Settlement planning used to be a lot more straightforward,” he explains, “but there have been so many changes to government programs—passage of the Affordable Care Act, increasing claims from Medicare—that you really need a comprehensive settlement plan in order to ensure that an award will benefit the plaintiff as much as possible. This isn’t a last-minute exercise.”
Julian is on the board of directors for the Veterans Breakfast Club of Pittsburgh, which has focused in recent years on the large number of service personnel with PTSD and other combat-related disabilities. He is also a board member with the Presbyterian Senior Care Foundation and a director of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has repeatedly been recognized as a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer and in Best Lawyers in America.
He frequently speaks and writes on planning for the transition from high school to adulthood for young people with disabilities, on Medicaid waiver programs, and on the importance of comprehensive special needs planning. He also co-authors a monthly column on elder law in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. His lectures for continuing legal education programs address such topics as settlement planning and Medicare set-asides, Medicare for people with disabilities, and first party special needs trusts.
Julian received his undergraduate degree from Penn State University and his law degree from Duquesne 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.
Evan J. Krame
Evan J. Krame, Law Offices of Krame and Biggin, Rockville, Maryland, has practiced law since 1982, generally in the field of estates and trusts. Since 1997, his primary focus has been serving individuals with disabilities. “My goal is to create a space for family members to fully express all their emotional, spiritual and intellectual concerns regarding the future of loved ones with special needs,” he explains.
Evan has repeatedly been recognized as a Baltimore and Washington, D.C., “Top Lawyer.” He has served as co-chair of the Estates, Trusts and Probate Section of the District of Columbia Bar and received its award for Best Pro Bono Project.
He has held numerous leadership positions with organizations that serve individuals with disabilities. He is a past president and current board member of the Madison House Autism Foundation, which advocates on behalf of adults on the spectrum. He is also a past president of Shared Horizons, Inc., a nonprofit that manages pooled special needs trusts for individuals living in Maryland and the District of Columbia. He won that organization’s Humanitarian of the Year award in 2015.
In addition, he is founder and secretary/treasurer of the American Friends of the Anne Frank House, which supports the museum’s work in Amsterdam and its educational programs worldwide.
He has been an adjunct professor, teaching estate planning, at the American University Law School and Montgomery College.
Evan earned a J.D. in law and an LL.M in taxation from George Washington University’s National Law Center. He has a B.A. in history from Brandeis.
Amy C. O’Hara
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.
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 officer 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.
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 both Michigan and Indiana and was a litigation attorney in Indianapolis before moving to 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 has volunteered time to Wayne County Neighborhood Legal Services, the Elder Law and Advocacy Center, 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 currently chairs the Elder Section of the State Bar of Michigan and is a member of the National Association of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). 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.