Editorial: Conference addresses estate planning to care for those with special needs

Lisa Yates
Lisa Yates, Editor

As many as 200 parents, attorneys, social workers and educators from the region, will come together Sept. 14, 2013 at the conference: "Life Planning for Persons with Disabilities." The conference — sponsored by Community Opportunities- The ARC of East Ascension, COEA, with their partners at Fab-Con, Mike Anderson's and Gonzales Weekly Citizen — will be held at The Clarion Inn Conference Center in Gonzales.

Family members, professionals and those advocating for persons with disabilities should make plans to attend. Registration starts at 8 a.m. with closing remarks and door prizes starting at 3:15 p.m.

A delicious lunch is included in the cost, which is $100 for professionals seeking CEU credit; $75 for ARC directors/administrators; $35 for individuals advocating for a person with a disability; and, $25 for COEA members. By the way, you can join COEA for only $10 per year. I did.

As a member of the conference's organizing committee, I will be there with the conference founder Sharon Morris, senior financial service specialist at Regions Bank, and vice president of COEA's Board of Directors. Our fellow organizing committee members include: Cheryl Rice, support employment DES coordinator at COEA; Cody Smith, program manager at COEA; Allison Hudson, public information officer with the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office; Ryan Chenevert, attorney, Cosmo's Bachelor of the Year, and the 2013 Dancing for a Cause champ; Alsie Dunbar, process and technology group chemical engineer at Motiva; Melinda Comeaux, co-owner of All About Insurance, and treasurer of COEA's Board of Directors; Norma Dukes, COEA executive director; Aanifa LeBlanc, graphic artist at Gonzales Weekly Citizen; Dennis Stevens, COEA business operations manager, and, Norris Warren, R.N. at COEA.

The conference provides a unique forum for families and professionals to address special needs trust options that allow them to supplement the child's or adult's monthly income from SSI with no adverse effects.

Theresa M. Varnet, an attorney specializing in estate planning for people with disabilities, will be the keynote speaker.

Varnet has been an advocate for persons with disabilities for more than 40 years. In addition to being a lawyer, she is a certified teacher, licensed social worker and the parent of a disabled adult daughter.

She is a frequent speaker for volunteer and professional groups all over the country, including national conferences of TASH, AAMR and The ARC. She is also the co-author, with Richard Spain, of MCLE's "Estate Planning for the Aging Incapacitated Client in Massachusett's" and a co-author of ICLE's "Special Needs Trust." In addition, she has been quoted in national journals and publications, such as the Kiplinger Retirement Report, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, the AARP Bulletin, and Exceptional Parent Magazine.

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

When she's not out on the road presenting seminars, Varnet divides her time between her Chicago-based practice at Spain, Spain & Varnet, and the Massachusetts offices of Fletcher Tilton PC. Her clients include families and individuals with special needs of all types.

The conference will include sessions on these topics:

• Introduction to Government Benefits

• Preserving Eligibility to Government Benefits

• Guardianship and Less Intrusive Alternatives to Guardianship

• Navigating the Social Security Maze

Sessions will offer five continuing education credits (CEU's) for nursing home administrators, social workers, licensed professional counselors, licensed clinical professional counselors, QIDP's, physical therapists and occupational therapists. A panel of local experts will also be available to answer questions on estate planning for special needs individuals in Louisiana.

The "Life Planing for Persons with Disabilities"is a unique opportunity to understand the problems of disabling conditions and gain a familiarity with state and federal entitlement programs that special needs individuals have to depend upon for their lifetime care.

This conference is a hallmark of The ARC of East Ascension's mission to enhance the quality of life for persons with disabilities and their families through service and advocacy that supports choice, independence and dignity.

The organizers of this conference hope you will join us in this effort to both increase awareness and advocate for individuals with special needs and their families.

For more information or to get involved, visit www.coeathearc.com, or call Cheryl Rice at (225) 621-2025, or Sharon Morris (225) 955-4683.

Lisa Yates is the editor of Gonzales Weekly Citizen. Follow her on Twitter @Lisa_editor.