SNA Dads Share Experiences at Autism Conference

Jim Caffry, Louie and Duncan out for a stroll
Photo Credit: Tim Morse/Morse Photography

There was standing room only during  an SNA member presentation at the Autism Society of America’s 42nd national conference in Orlando in early July. “Two Dads—Two Lawyers: Special Needs Legal and Future Planning” was a sharing of personal and professional perspectives by Jim Caffry and Brian Rubin,  whose sons are on the autism spectrum.

“My son Mitchell is 30 and Jim’s son Duncan is 11, so we represented different generations,” explains Brian. “The fact that we live in different states—Illinois and Vermont—also contributed to the breadth of our experience. Almost everyone in the room was a parent, so we’d walked the same walk.”

One of the biggest financial dilemmas faced by families is how much is unknown. How much money should they save for their child’s future? Will he be able to work? What government benefits and other programs will he be eligible for? What will health insurance cover?

The  speakers stressed that parents should focus on what can be controlled–by creating a Special Needs Trust  (SNT) to  protect eligibility for public benefits and by ensuring that the misdirected goodwill of well-meaning relations doesn’t derail their plans. Jim and Brian detailed 25 mistakes typically made by attorneys who aren’t familiar with SNTs and the questions families should ask before beginning to work with them.

Jim offered a personal illustration of how an SNT can contribute to quality of life.  “Louie is Duncan’s autism service dog.  He’s had an enormous impact on our whole family, and I want to be sure that Duncan can always have such a dog—and they’re expensive– if he wants to.  That’s the type of detail I’ve written into our Letter of Intent, and it’s a good example of something important that government benefits will never cover.”

Mitchell Rubin, flanked by parents Linda and Brian

Decisions concerning guardianship and power of attorney were also explored.  “For the parents of a child with Asperger’s, this can be a conflict-ridden issue,” explains Jim.  “They have a high functioning loved one and have spent 18 years helping him be as independent as possible.  Now they have to consider safeguards that will rein him in.”

“We had a steady stream of visitors to the SNA booth,” adds Brian. “Lots of people asked how they could find a good attorney in their home state, so I showed them the SNA website on my laptop and how they could click on our map to find someone who understands their problems and is always on top of this rapidly changing area of law.”