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If you have a child with special needs, you should talk to extended family members who may be intending to make a gift or bequest. Extended family members may have your child’s best interests at heart, but they may be unaware that the money they leave to your child could jeopardize eligibility for government benefits. For example, while grandparents may wish to leave part of their estate to a grandchild with special needs, receipt of such funds could disqualify the child for Medicaid, SSI, and other government programs that are key to the child’s quality of life. Any gifts or bequests intended for the child should be made to a supplemental needs trust.

Family members should be made aware of the rules that govern the assets of a child with special needs, and they should make their estate planning decisions accordingly. Referring them to a special needs attorney can help your family members do the right thing in the right way.

Bernard Krooks is a New York Elder Law and New York Estate Planning lawyer with offices in White Plains, Fishkill, and New York, New York. To learn more, visit

A supplemental needs trust is an important tool that can be used to make sure a child with special needs has access to the services and care he or she requires. Establishing a supplemental needs trust as a part of an overall financial plan is one step in providing a solid base of lifetime support. Once a child turns 18, his or her income will be used to determine eligibility for public benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Earning too much will lead to the loss of these important benefits. However, funds paid into a supplemental needs trust will not be counted as income and, therefore, will allow an individual with special needs to retain public benefits.

There are rules governing what the funds paid from a supplemental needs trust may be used for. Supplemental needs trusts are meant to “supplement” necessary income, to pay for “luxuries” that Medicaid or SSI does not cover. Therefore, if funds from the trust are used regularly to purchase necessities, such as groceries or housing, those funds may count as income. Certain items should not be paid for from a supplemental needs trust if the beneficiary is receiving SSI. These include:

• Cash given directly to the beneficiary
• Food, including groceries and eating out if it is done on a regular basis
• Housing expenses, such as rent, mortgage, or property taxes
• Homeowners or renters insurance, if it is required by the mortgage or rental community
• Utilities and utility connection charges

Some of these payments may only cause a partial reduction in SSI benefits. Individuals wishing to use funds from a supplemental needs trust for any “necessary” expenditures should consult a special needs planning attorney about their specific situations. Seeking advice will help a trustee determine whether the benefits of making payments from the trust are worth the loss of SSI income.

To learn more, visit


Julian Assange’s recent release of 250,000 diplomatic cables, via WikiLeaks, have made him a marked man.  The government of the United States wishes to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act while some say Assange deserves hero status for bringing these revelations.

Assange is currently on mansion arrest in England while he fights extradition back to Sweden.   He is wanted for questioning in two cases involving rape allegations.  Rape is defined differently in Sweden, but the allegations are no less serious.  Assange recently accepted over one million dollars to pen his memoirs, so whatever you think of his actions, they have certainly brought him a degree of wealth as well as unparalleled journalistic infamy.

As a former active duty Marine I empathize with our government’s position.  As a private citizen, I am appalled by what some of these cables reveal.   One thing is clear about Julian Assange.  He has made an impact.


I LOVE this time of year.  For me it’s filled with birthdays, holidays, family, friends and food.  As a family our celebrating doesn’t slow down until after Valentine’s Day.   We don’t have many “traditions”; we just enjoy spending time with each other.  Since this is LP’s first Christmas, I did want to start something small with her on Christmas Eve that can grow to include all of our kids in the future.  I want to sit in front of our lit Christmas tree and drink hot chocolate and read the Polar Express to her.  I adore that book and the part where the conductor hands-out hot chocolate to all the kids on the train is my favorite part.  I also love to track Santa on Norad ….. I’m the biggest kid in the family. 

What traditions do you have with your family?? 

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!!!

Contest winners

The Friends of the Greenwood Lake Public Library recently raised $462 with a holiday fundraiser to benefit the Library.  The Gingerbread Village was handmade and donated by Greenwood Lake resident and Chef, Hal Weinstein, who has donated a Gingerbread House for the Friends’ holiday fundraiser for the past six years.

Featured in the picture are Maria Alvarado with her sister, Astrid (left) and her daughter, Jacklyn (right) in front of the Gingerbread Village they won for the Friend’s  annual fundraiser. All three were thrilled to take home this holiday prize and promised that they will enjoy every last morsel!

Dr. Annette Saturnelli

My husband came to me early this morning to let me know that Annette Saturnelli died on Monday. She has been the school superintendent of the Newburgh School District for the past 6 years.

Whenever I called to ask for help, Dr. Saturnelli always replied with supportive information. As the publisher of Hudson Valley Parent magazine and a small business owner, I found her support of our programs second to none. For several years, she opened the schools to us so that we could hold parenting conferences. When I was looking for key people to interview, she and her staff were right there with information.

In a 2007 article in Hudson Valley Life, Dr. Saturnelli was identified as  one of the power people in Newburgh.  According to the article Dr. Saturnelli believed that the challenges facing today’s youth are formidable. “As hard as it was for us to grow up, it’s harder for them to grow up,” she said. “Things are not so clear. Violence is prevalent and they are not able to distinguish between real and not, or good and bad. They go everywhere and they are bombarded.

“If these children are to grow to take over Newburgh and guide its future,”  she explained,” then their lives have to be properly guided in the present.”

I am proud to have known Dr. Saturnelli and know that the City of Newburgh has lost a key community leader.  We send our condolences to her family and hope that they feel they can use this time of sadness as a period to celebrate her accomplishments.

Ever read a book that make you laugh out loud? Maybe I should refine that statement: have you ever read a mystery book that made you laugh out loud?

Have some fun and read Keith Thomson’s Once a Spy.  His main character Charlie Clark is a 30-something who is about to go on the ride of his life. And nothing is what is seems.

His dad, Drummond Clark, shows the beginning signs of Alzheimer’s. And the next thing Charlie knows is that they are being shot at, chased and there are a lot of people out there who want both dad and son dead.

His mom, who he thought died when he was young, is actually alive and a spy for one of our secret agencies…and by the way, so is his dad.

The man Charlie thought was his loving grandpa is actually a mob boss who is witness protection and his dad’s parents were actually foreign spies.

Think of James Bond living in Brooklyn, New York and you have a setting that demonstrates the craziness of life and those around us.

And if you loves mystery and mayhem, then register for the mystery newsletter from Murder by the Book. They first introduced me to Keith Thompson.

Splash and Dash Summer Day Camp is committed to providing enjoyment to children and has been an area favorite for several years running. With locations in New Windsor, Cornwall, and Harriman, they offer a range of activities for your youngster, to include swimming, sports, crafts, trips, and much more.

They are also very responsive to the community as they offer a scholarship program for working families who don’t qualify for DSS, but who may need some help with the camp costs. These scholarships are funded by their aptly titled “Cell Phones for Camp Scholarships” program. 100% of the proceeds go to fund the scholarships, not only helping area children who otherwise might not be able to enjoy Splash and Dash, but also helping the environment by collecting used cell phones.

The first open house is scheduled for Jan 13th, 2011, 6:15pm at Splash and Dash New Windsor, so get in before the spaces fill up. For more info call (845) 561-4700 ext. 2, or visit them on the web.

An important consideration for parents of a maturing special needs child is housing. Families will need to do significant research into their options to make sure their child is properly cared for when he or she can no longer live at home. If the child will require a group home or some other form or supportive housing, asking the right questions can help the transition go as smoothly as possible. Some of these questions include:

• What is the reputation of the provider with residents and with neighbors?
• Will the provider allow you to meet any of the other residents to see if the atmosphere is right for your child?
• Does the provider have “house rules” and other measures that may be in place to ensure residents will be good neighbors?
• What community safety measures are in place?
• What are the amenities? Are there common areas that will be available?
• Is there a plan to address grievances among residents?

Planning for housing for a child with special needs is a critical step in ensuring his or her future safety and happiness. Start planning early to make sure that all your questions are answered.

To learn more about New York elder law, New York Estate Planning, NY Elder, and New York Special Needs Planning, visit

We’ve talked about entertaining (see earlier blog post) but how about eating during the Holidays??  National statistics show that between Thanksgiving and New Years, the average weight gain is around 10 lbs!!  You can avoid becoming another statistic (and feeling lousy after the Holidays are all over) by following a few of these simple techniques:

1) NEVER go to a party hungry.  Have a healthy snack before you go that is a complex mix of protein, carbs and fat.  This will help hold you over for the long haul by giving you fuel to burn (not just quick carbs that burn up fast and leave you starving) and making you full before you even go.  Try a half of a turkey sandwich with light mayo & lettuce, or pretzels & peanut butter.  If you can’t grab before you go, make a smart snack out of similar items (often found at parties) when you arrive.  Crackers & cheese, veggie plate, etc.  If you’ve been asked to bring something, make it a platter of snacks that you can eat guiltlessly, but flavor-fully!  (See my website for some quick, easy and healthy appetizer ideas.)

2) Have a buffet strategy.  Scope out all the options before piling things on your plate.  Take only what really appeals to you in small quantity.  Load up on green salad, non starchy veggies.  Watch the sauces.  The more room these take on your plate, the less room there is for high calorie foods.

3) Limit the alcohol.  Switch between an alcoholic drink & water or seltzer.  Alcohol is LOADED with calories (did you know the average margarita has over 650 calories!!!) and can lower your inhibitions, thus impairing food choices.

4) Have Fun!  We often forget that the Holidays are about connecting with friends and family and celebrating life.  Food often becomes our central focus when it should be celebrating and enjoying company, conversation and laughing joyously.  And hey, it burns 1.3 extra calories a minute, so over the course of a 3 hour party, that’s over 230 calories without even trying!

A little planning and preparation can go a long way for you this Holiday season.  Don’t be a statistic, have fun, enjoy the celebration with family and friends and most of all, laugh.  You’re worth it!

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