Some Resources for Parents

For forty years, the non-profit Federation for Children with Special Needs has provided information, assistance, and support to parents of children with disabilities, and has helped thousands of families in Massachusetts in addressing the issues that arise in special education programs.

The Federation’s Parent Training and Information Center connects parents like you with special education advocates and compiles and summarizes key topics and relevant legislation for easier comprehension of the rules and regulations you and your child have to work within. It also holds regularly scheduled workshops around the state covering every stage of the special education process from ‘Basic Rights in Special Education’ to ‘Transition 101 – High School to Adulthood,’ and can be a valuable resource for this initial information.

If you have questions about the Federation for Children with Special Needs, or any other issues related to special education advocacy, contact me at mgove@govelawoffice.com or 413-570-3170.

Draft a Will, So There’s a Way

If you die in Massachusetts without a last will and testament, you’re leaving a lot of things up to chance – state law will control how your property will be distributed, and a probate and family court judge will have to determine who might be the best person to handle your estate, or the best person to take care of your children.

In contrast, having a last will and testament in place allows you to provide instructions that will control or influence these decisions, and will almost always be enforced by a judge. In the document, you can distribute your property to different people or charities, and these gifts can be compelled by the beneficiary. Within your will, you can also name a person to serve as your personal representative (formerly known as the executor) and that choice will be respected unless the court finds the person you chose cannot faithfully fulfill their duties. Finally, your will can also name the person or people you would like to be responsible for any of your children, when necessary. If the court finds the named guardian is willing and able to serve, your choice will then have priority over other qualified people.

Drafting a will is a simple process that requires a short conversation with your estate planning attorney and a review of the document to make sure it reflects your wishes. You should also consider amending your will if you’ve been married or divorced, if you’ve had more children or would like to add, remove, or change your beneficiaries, or if you’ve moved from another state.

If you need to discuss drafting your will, or have questions about any other estate planning issues, contact me at mgove@govelawoffice.com or 413-570-3170.

New Rules for Flexible Spending Accounts Mean More Choices

Employers who provide Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) under Section 125 Cafeteria Plans can now choose to modify their FSA plan to allow employees the ability to roll-over up to $500 in unused funds from year-to-year, thanks to new rules enacted by the U.S. Treasury Department.

To take advantage of this change, employers must amend their plans in writing, but an amendment may be made retroactively for the 2013 plan year. Some FSA plans include provisions for a grace period, where an employee can use prior year account balances to cover any expenses incurred in the first seventy-five days after the end of the year. If an employer chooses to amend their FSA plan to allow for the roll-over of funds, however, the plan must also be amended to remove any grace period.

Employees who choose to roll-over $500 in unused funds may still defer the full $2,500 allowed in the next plan year, but the employer may choose to apply the newly deferred funds from the current year before applying the rolled-over funds from the previous year.

To help employers and employees transition to health care plans newly available under the Affordable Care Act, the enacted rules also include provisions which allow employees who are part of non-calendar cafeteria plans to make retroactive decisions regarding their FSA plans.

If you have any questions about your FSA plans, or want to discuss any business issues, contact me at mgove@govelawoffice.com or 413-570-3170.

Ensuring (and Insuring) Proper Title to Your Real Property

When you purchase real estate, you have an expectation that you can occupy and use the property as you wish, that the property will not be subject to debts or liens you haven’t agreed to, and that you’ll be able to mortgage or sell the property in the future. To ensure this is the case, you (and your lender) will want to make sure no third party has any claims against the property. This is done by having an attorney examine a number of things, including public records held by the local registry of deeds and the local probate and family court, the payment of taxes and utility services at the municipal and state level, and information from the seller about the prior use of the property. The attorney’s investigation should identify whether a third party has any potential claims of ownership, or has any potential liens for work done on the property.

Once this investigation is complete, and all potential issues have been identified and cleared up, your attorney will contact a title insurance company to issue a title insurance policy. The title insurance company will review the attorney’s investigation of the property, confirm all issues have been cleared up, and authorize the issuance of the title insurance policy. This policy insures your ownership of the property, and sets out the title insurance company’s agreement to defend your ownership if a claim arises and to pay out the value of the policy if any claim is successful.

There are two types of title insurance policies issued by a title insurance company: a lender’s policy and an owner’s policy. A lender’s policy is given to the lender and only insures the value of the loan issued. In contrast, an owner’s policy is given to you as the owner and insures the full value of the property, including any equity you may have. When you first purchase property, the additional cost of an owner’s policy is usually minimal, and is almost always worth the investment.

If you have questions about purchasing property, the process of obtaining title insurance, or any real estate matter, contact me at mgove@govelawoffice.com or 413-570-3170.

Protecting Your Special Needs Student from Bullying

With students returning to school following the holiday weekend, it’s important to remember the disproportionate impact bullying can have on students with disabilities. Not only are students with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, autism, and other special needs more likely to be bullied than their peers, but they are also less likely to recognize an action as bullying, less likely to understand the harm the behavior is causing, and less likely to report the behavior to an adult. As a result, it’s even more necessary these issues are spotted and addressed as early as possible.

In light of this need, the U.S. Department of Education recently issued a statement reminding school officials of their obligations to identify and prevent the bullying of students with special needs. (See the letter here.) In the letter, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services makes clear that the bullying of a student who is receiving special education services can result in the student not receiving a Free and Appropriate Public Education if the behavior prevents the student from receiving meaningful educational benefits.

Whenever a school becomes aware that a disabled student has been bullied, it should call a meeting of the student’s IEP team to determine if the student’s needs have changed and if the IEP needs to be changed. The school, however, should try to avoid a change in placement because the disabled student is still entitled to receive FAPE in the least restrictive environment, and this requirement cannot be avoided simply because of bullying behavior. Instead, whenever possible, the school should address the situation in a way that allows the student to continue their education in a meaningful and appropriate fashion.

If you have questions about your child’s education, contact me at mgove@govelawoffice.com or 413-570-3170.