'Life Planning for Persons with Disabilities' conference set for Gonzales

Lisa Yates
Theresa M. Varnet

Parents with a child who has a disability often find themselves in a dilemma when planning for this child's future.

Since the average family is seldom able to leave sufficient funds to care for their dependent's lifetime care, they must make sure their child remains eligible for government programs such as SSI, Medicaid, residential, training or support services.

So what are a family's options?

That's the focus of the "Life Planning for Person's with Disabilities" conference – an educational program from Community Opportunities – The ARC of East Ascension (COEA.) The conference will take place from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Sept. 14, at the Clarion Inn Conference Center, 1500 W. Hwy 30, in Gonzales.

Sharon Morris, Vice President of COEA's Board of Directors, said there has been a demand for this type of information in the community.

"The families have been asking for some type of estate planning to care for quite some time," she said. "The purpose of the conference is to educate the families of individuals with disabilities and those who advocate for individuals with disabilities."

Morris said this is the first year for this conference in Gonzales.

"To my knowledge, nothing like this has been done before in this area," she said. "We're planning on making it an annual event like we did with Dancing for a Cause." she said.

Morris, who co-founded Dancing for a Cause, founded this conference and will serve as its chairman. She asked Theresa M. Varnet, an attorney specializing in estate planning for people with disabilities, to be the keynote speaker.

"I attended a conference in Washington, D.C., back in August of 2012, where she was speaking and she did an awesome job," she said. "I told her that we need to do something like this in our area."

She said in addition to being a lawyer, Varnet is a certified teacher, licensed social worker and the parent of a disabled adult daughter.

As the current chairperson of the Special Needs Law Section of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Morris said Varnet is the nation's leading expert on estate planning issues for those with special needs.

Varnet's presentation will focus on how to assist families without adverse affects that may exclude them from receiving government support.

Topics for the program include: "Introduction to Government Benefits," "Preserving Eligibility," "Guardianship and Less Intrusive Alternatives," and, "Navigating the Social Security Maze." A panel of experts will also be available to answer questions regarding special needs estate planning.

Five hours of continuing education hours are available for attorneys, teachers, social workers, counselors and other professionals.

Cost for the conference is $100 for professionals seeking continuing education credit; $75 for ARC administrators; $35 for individuals advocating for persons with a disability; and, $25 for members of COEA. Lunch by Mike Anderson's Seafood Restaurant is included.

Registration is required by calling (225) 621-2025, by Aug. 23.

Morris said a limited number of grants will be available and registration information will be posted on the COEA website at http://coeathearc.com/.

"Individuals can join COEA for $10, that day and get $10 off the fee," she said. "That day people can still become a member."

Morris said those attending the conference will include attorneys, teachers, social workers, family members of persons with disabilities, individuals with disabilities, community service agencies' staff, those who advocate for persons with disabilities and other interested community members.

"We expect as many as 200 people will attend," she said. "We have attorneys coming from all over, including Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Hammond and Houma."