Special Needs Alliance Board of Directors
Katherine N. Barr, President
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, she focuses most of her practice on helping individuals with special needs obtain and preserve eligibility for government benefits.
Katherine spends much of her free time advocating for individuals with special needs and educating families—and other attorneys– about the importance of public programs to special needs planning. “There is so much misinformation out there,” she says. “It’s painful to realize that there are parents who’ve been taking care of adult children with disabilities for decades without public assistance. The system is so confusing and complex that they simply give up.”
Katherine is on the board of directors for Down Syndrome Alabama and is a permanent advisory board member for Triumph Services, a non-profit that provides services to adults with autism to help them live as independently as possible. She is a former board member 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.
Katherine is a commissioner of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Commission on Disability Rights and has held leadership positions with the ABA’s Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law over 15 years, including chair of the section’s Special Needs Trust Committee. In 2010, she co-authored “Top 15 Tips for Estate Planners When Planning for Special Needs,” judged best article of the year by Probate & Property Magazine.
She has been named a Fellow of ACTEC (American College of Trust and Estate Counsel) and the American Bar Foundation and has been listed as an Alabama Super Lawyer and in Best Lawyers in America since 2008.
Katherine received her J.D. cum laude from Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham.
Brian N. Rubin, President-Elect
Brian N. Rubin, of Rubin Law, 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 7,500 individuals with disabilities, since 1990. 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 Fechtman, Vice 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 active in the community, serving on the board of Tangram, a nonprofit that assists individuals with special needs. “Through my involvement with Tangram, we are working to increase employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. The unemployment rate for those with disabilities is extremely high, and yet persons with disabilities generally make excellent employees!”
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.”
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.
Jefferey M. Yussman, Treasurer
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.
Jennifer L. Lile, Secretary
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.
Scott Suzuki, Immediate Past President
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 both 2007 and 2015.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Laurie Hanson, Esq., Long, Reher & Hanson, 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 kids, which prevented them from working on their behalf with the schools and dealing with many of their behavioral issues.” Eventually, she became a founding member and president of the Minnesota Kinship Caregivers Association and has written extensively on kinship caregiving.
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.
Laurie and her partner share an inter-generational, inter-ability household with her father and stepson, who has an autism-spectrum disorder.
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.
Mary E. O’Byrne, Esq.
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 the health insurance and HMO industries─in strategic planning and information systems ─ 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 now serves as 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) and currently serves as the chair of the Trusts and Special Needs Trusts Section. She also serves on the board of NAMI-Metropolitan 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.
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.In addition, for years they were unable to roll survivor benefits into special needs trusts. I actively spread the word about these issues to my SNA colleagues, and we’ve advocated for changes. In late 2014, Congress finally passed the Disabled Military Child Protection Act, which now makes it possible for military families to do special needs planning that’s long been available to civilians.”
She is an active community volunteer, having served as counsel for The ARC of Northern Virginia for 17 years, mostly 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 is a member of the Virginia, District of Columbia and New York bars. She has been named an ACTEC (American College of Trust and Estate Counsel) Fellow and has been listed in Super Lawyers and Best Lawyers for both estate planning and elder law since 2006. She earned a B.A. from the University of Virginia and a J.D. from Fordham University School of Law.