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Friday, January 27, 2017

U.S. Supreme Court Hears Special Education Case

Earlier this month, the highest court in the land, the United States Supreme Court, heard oral arguments in a case about an issue near and dear to our heart: education for people with special needs. Thanks to this case, we may finally get an answer to the question of how much effort and funding public schools should put toward educating a student with special needs.

The case before the Court comes from Colorado, and it concerns a young man diagnosed with autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, who made little progress in public school, but was able to make significant gains after switching to a private school. The family is seeking reimbursement for the cost of sending their son to private school (he is now 17), but the local public school balked at the suggestion that the education they provided was inadequate.

The Court will decide “whether public schools owe disabled children ‘some’ educational benefit — which courts have determined to mean just-above-trivial progress — or whether students legally deserve something more: a substantial, ‘meaningful’ benefit.” Although this may not sound like much of a distinction, it is a big deal. In fact, this is perhaps the most important special needs case to reach the Court in decades, and it will set a policy precedent that impacts special needs students across the whole country.

No matter what Supreme Court decides is the appropriate level of education, parents always want to give their child the best education possible. For a special needs person, this often means a life-time of learning opportunities that enrich their life or help them develop new skills. One way to ensure that these sorts of opportunities exist for your loved one, no matter how old they are, or who is responsible for their care, is to set up a special needs trust.

A special needs trust is a unique estate planning tool that allows the loved ones of people who need extra care to set aside money that can benefit their loved one without jeopardizing his or her eligibility for government assistance like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Government assistance covers the cost of essential things like food, shelter, and basic healthcare, but not much else. The funds in a special needs trust can be drawn upon to pay for educational services, transportation, life-enriching outings, special food, special medical care, and many other things.

Although these trusts are set up for the benefit of loved ones who need special care, the person they benefit does not have direct access to the funds. This prevents the government for claiming the funds, and if done properly, keeps the funds from being wasted or spent inappropriately.

Special needs trusts are a vital tool anyone who has a loved one with special needs should use. If you have questions about how they work or how to fund one, please contact our office to schedule a free meeting with one of our attorneys.


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