SNA Draws Crowd at NAMI Convention


(From left) Shawn Majette, Steve Dale and Dennis Sandoval during the estate planning overview.

Two hundred fifty people attended an estate planning session presented by SNA members at last month’s NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) convention in Chicago.  Following an hour’s overview of strategies based on actual NAMI family situations, breakout sessions offered more detail.

Creating a Special Needs Trust that Adjusts to Changing Circumstances, hosted by Steve Dale, stressed that a successful estate plan should be  flexible enough to withstand evolving needs. He offered a basic explanation of Special Needs Trusts (SNTs) and alternatives, stressing that an SNT is really a care plan and that choosing the right trustee is key.

Using Professional Care Managers, by Dennis Sandoval, addressed the creation of a “care team” to handle the day-to-day decision-making that’s often needed to ensure quality of life for a loved one with disabilities. Such a support network could include a special needs attorney, disability care coordinator, advocate, and key friends and relations.

Creating a Protective Trust for a Beneficiary Not on Public Benefits, by Rick Law, spoke to the needs of a loved one who is not legally defined as having a disability but who is vulnerable or has a self-destructive lifestyle. A “Love and Protection Trust” can establish distribution rules that include rehabilitation incentives, matching funds for job earnings and other stipulations that  mirror a parent’s guidance.


Shawn Majette (right) performs magic tricks for Alyk Kenlan, a CooperRiis convention volunteer.

Civil Commitments and Psychiatric Advance Directives, led by Shawn Majette, a mental health judge, addressed an alternative to the often wrenching process of civil commitment. Persons who fear that they may lose decision-making capacity can implement a psychiatric advance directive. Such a document  entrusts a specified individual with the ability to make choices –with physician approval– about in-facility mental health care. One session attendee spoke movingly of her son, a bipolar patient, who had committed suicide when family members and attorneys were unable to overcome civil commitment barriers. Her son would be alive today, she declared, if laws governing psychiatric advance directives had been in place at the time.

“We had a total of six SNA members staffing our conference booth, and I  estimate that we offered thousands of dollars worth of free legal advice,”  says Steve. Visitors to the booth asked about choosing trustees, in-community housing and protecting government benefits. There was also much discussion of the federal budget and how cuts could affect people with disabilities.