Search Frequently Asked Questions
How Does It Work?
We concentrate our practice on serving the needs of families, especially families that include individuals with disabilities, as well as gifted students and non-disabled students experiencing problems with the education system. We can help you with:
- Early Intervention
- Special education
- 504 Plans
- Resolution Meetings
- Due Process Hearings
- Federal and state court actions
- Gifted education
- Transition programs
- Suspension and Expulsion
- Testing Accommodations
- Estate Planning
- Powers of Attorney
- Special Needs Trusts
- Medical Assistance
- Disability Discrimination
We primarily serve the eastern half of Pennsylvania, (east of Harrisburg) although in some cases we will serve clients farther south or west. While most of our practice is concentrated in Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton and Philadelphia Counties, we also serve clients in the Scranton-Wilkes Barre area, Lancaster, Schuylkill, Dauphin and York Counties. When you call us, we will decide together whether we can serve you in an efficient and cost-effective way.
We are located in Willow Grove, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, one mile south of the Willow Grove Exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. [Link to Directions page].
There is no charge for the initial phone consultation, which typically lasts twenty to thirty minutes. A member of our staff will take a history of your case, and will either offer a suggestion or referral for resolving it or, if there is a need for more, schedule you for an in-office appointment with an advocate or attorney. There is a charge for the in-office appointment, based on the hourly rate of the attorney or advocate you meet with and amount of time it takes. Typically, these appointments require one to two hours.
For an education appointment, we usually ask that you bring at least the last two years of the student’s records, but please also bring anything else you think will help us to understand your child’s needs. It will streamline your appointment if you put the records in chronological order and bring a copy for us to review. Write down any important questions that you want to be addressed so that we can be sure to cover them during your appointment. Think about the problems your child is experiencing. Most importantly, think about what your child needs, and what you would like to achieve at the end of the process. We will explore all of this with you at the appointment, review all of your options, and work with you to put together an action plan to achieve the results you want.
For an estate planning appointment, we ask you to fill out our Estate Questionnaire and to bring it with you to our meeting.
If you need further help after your initial in-office appointment, we will enter into a written retainer agreement that clearly outlines our expectations of each other at each stage of the process. At the conclusion of your appointment, we will decide together whether you need us to take further action on your behalf, or whether you will take the next steps on your own. If you now have the tools to carry on by yourself, you will not need a retainer.
We make every effort to resolve issues at the earliest possible stage without sacrificing your results. The vast majority of cases can be successfully concluded without going through a due process hearing.
Send a letter to your child’s school requesting all records. You may be charged a reasonable per page copying fee. If the records are extensive, it may keep costs down to make an appointment to review the file, and to copy only those records you do not already have.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that requires states and school districts to provide free, appropriate educations to eligible students with disabilities. Children from birth through graduation or age 21, whichever is later, are covered by that law
A free appropriate public education (FAPE) is a program of special education and related services individually designed to meet the unique needs of the student and to yield meaningful educational benefit, provided at no cost to the student or parents, and delivered in conformance with a written Individualized Education Program (IEP) developed by a team that includes educational professionals and the parents.
Ask your school district, in writing, to evaluate your child for eligibility. If you already have private evaluations that establish a disability, include them with your request. The district should then either send a written Permission to Evaluate form for your approval detailing the kinds of testing it wants to do, or send you an invitation to a meeting to discuss why it does not believe an evaluation is necessary. You are always free to have private evaluations done on your own to submit to the district for its review.
The evaluation will determine whether your child meets one of the categories of disability under IDEA: Autism, Deafness, Deaf-blindness, Hearing impairment, Mental retardation, Multiple disabilities, Orthopedic impairment, Serious Emotional Disturbance, Specific learning disability, Speech or language impairment, Traumatic brain injury, Visual impairment (including blindness), or Other health impairment (including conditions like ADD/ADHD). The evaluation will go on to determine whether, because of that disability, your child requires special education and related services. If your child has a disability, but it can be addressed successfully with accommodations and modifications, he or she may be eligible for a Section 504 Service Plan instead of an IEP.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs or by entities receiving federal funds. In addition to barring discrimination against individuals who have disabilities, Section 504 also forbids discrimination or retaliation against people who advocate for them. People are considered to be disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities. For everyone, but especially for children, learning is a major life activity. Other major life activities include caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, and working.
Students who have a disability that needs to be addressed by accommodations or modifications in school, but not by specially designed instruction, may be well-served by a Section 504 Plan.
The evaluation process is very similar to the one for determining eligibility under the IDEA. Start by asking your district for an evaluation. Every child who is eligible for service under the IDEA is also covered under Section 504.
No. A school district must make every reasonable effort to provide services where a student would ordinarily be in the absence of a disability (a “typical setting”). This “least restrictive environment” requirement is a very strong one. Students with disabilities must be included with their typical peers to the maximum extent appropriate.
The services to be provided must be based on an appropriate evaluation and determined by a team of educational professionals that very much includes the parents. The team will develop a written Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for your child’s education. The plan will include your child’s present educational and functional levels, measurable annual goals with expected levels of achievement during the IEP term, specially designed instruction, related services (such as speech therapy and occupational therapy), supports for school personnel (such as additional training or consultation with specialists necessary to the delivery of your child’s IEP services), and a recommendation for placement. The IEP will be issued to you for your approval, usually by means of a document called a Notice of Recommended Placement (NOREP). A NOREP should always be accompanied by an IEP.
You can choose from a variety of further options to resolve the disagreement, including asking for an additional meeting, mediation, or a due process hearing. Each of the options can work well in particular situations, and less well in others. A consultation with a skilled advocate or attorney can help you decide which will work best for you.
Yes, but they vary depending on the circumstances. Students with disabilities placed in private schools by their districts have all the same rights that public school students have. Those placed by their parents have the right to dual enrollment in the public schools to receive special educations services, and to services accessed through the private schools under a state law that provides funding for some kinds of support . You have the right to ask your district to evaluate your child for special education services even if your child attends private school. You do not have to agree to place your child in public school in order to get that evaluation.
In Pennsylvania, gifted students are entitled to special programming and services to meet their needs. Those programs usually involve enrichment, acceleration, or some combination of the two. There is no federal right to gifted education. Public schools in Pennsylvania must identify all students who may require gifted support services, appropriately evaluate those students, and provide each eligible student with a Gifted Education Program (“GIEP”). While many of the procedural rights of gifted students are similar to those for students with disabilities, there are significant differences in the remedies available to gifted students whose rights have been violated. If a student who has a disability is also gifted, all of his or her programs and services are covered in the IEP, and there is no separate GIEP. However, a gifted student with a disability may have both an IEP and a Section 504 Service Plan.
Estate Planning provides for the planned distribution of your assets upon your death. By planning ahead, your estate can reduce the impact of federal taxes on your estate leaving a larger pool of money for distribution to your family or intended beneficiaries. An estate plan is your chance to benefit the people or organizations that are most important in your life. While estate planning is important for everyone, it is crucial for families that have relatives with disabilities.
A will is a written document with instructions for disposing of assets after death. A will can only be enforced through the probate court. A properly designed will should include the designation of an Executor, arrangements for payment of your funeral expenses, what assets you have and who should be entitled to receive those assets.
Executors of estates are tasked with responsibilities such as paying funeral expenses, administering legal issues surrounding the estate, distributing gifts in accordance with the provisions of your Will, and maintaining the property of the estate, such as safeguarding valuables, caring for the lawn or pets, and paying utility and other bills, during the administration of the estate.
A power of attorney is a document that gives a person, typically called the agent, power to make decisions on behalf of the person creating the power. There are two types of powers of attorney: a regular power of attorney and a durable power of attorney.
A regular POA can be implemented giving the power designated as the agent the power to make decisions for the person creating the power of attorney. The decisions are usually financially related and involve either direct power to make cash decisions or the power to make a financial decision that is not cash related such as a real estate transaction or car signing. This type of POA becomes ineffective if the person who grants the powers becomes incapacitated.
A durable POA remains in effect even if the person granting the power becomes mentally incapacitated. In such case, the person who becomes mentally incapacitated will usually grant the agent the power to make financial and medical decisions. The medical decisions granted may include limited medical procedures. The durable POA ends when the principal dies.
A living will is a legal document to make known your wishes regarding life prolonging medical treatments in the event you become incapacitated and are either in a terminal condition or permanent state of unconsciousness. It can also be referred to as an advance directive, health care directive or a physician's directive. It is important to have a living will as it informs your health care providers and your family about your desires for medical treatment in the event you are not able to speak for yourself.
A trust is a multifunctional instrument used for several purposes. In general, a trust is a right of property, real or personal, held by one person for the benefit of another. A trust authorizes a named Trustee to manage the trust property for the benefit of one or more individuals or beneficiaries.
A special needs trust is an instrument created to protect the assets of someone who is disabled and is or will be receiving public assistance. Special Needs Trusts are designed to permit financial resources to remain available to assist a disabled individual who receives, or may receive in the future, MH/MR and/or Medical Assistance and/or SSI benefits. They also protect such resources from immediate invasion by the Department of Public Welfare (or other providers of publicly-funded services) to reimburse the public treasury for the provision of MH/MR, MA or SSI benefits.
No. A special needs trust does not itself make public benefits available. Nor does it make it easier to qualify for them. The beneficiary must qualify for the benefits program – either before or after the Trust is established. If properly designed, the Trust will not cause a loss of benefits.
Depends on the type of special needs trust. A third party funded trust can be set up to benefit non-disabled relatives. A special needs trust funded by assets of the disabled relative through a settlement can only benefit the disabled relative and allows the Department of Public Welfare to retain a lien against the trust once the disabled relative dies.
Many benefits are extremely expensive and financially draining when paid for privately. This can place a burden on families with limited resources.
The combination of a family member and a professional (or corporate) trustee is often the best arrangement for administering the Trust. Your disabled relative cannot serve as trustee. The corporate trustee must be sensitive to the needs of the beneficiary and must be knowledgeable about government benefits and the administration of Special Needs Trusts.
A Special Needs Trust can provide for physical therapy, medications and medical treatment and transportation. It also may allow for other life-enhancing items, such as education, entertainment, vacations, companionship, furniture and furnishings (such as a television or computer), and some utilities (e.g., cable television and telephone service, but not electricity, gas or water). The general rule is that a Trust may not provide the beneficiary with food, clothing or shelter (e.g., rent), or any asset which could be converted into food clothing or shelter – including cash. If the Trust is structured to pay for food, clothing or shelter, the disabled person’s SSI payments will be reduced. However, with proper Trust administration, the basic benefit as well as Medicaid eligibility can be preserved. Distributions of cash to the beneficiary are almost never permitted.
Is a legal process to declare an individual incapacitated and appoint a guardian of the person and/or a guardian of the estate to assist the incapacitated individual in making medical decisions and/or managing finances.
A guardian may be any qualified individual over the age of 18, corporate fiduciary, non-profit corporation, or county agency. The court-appointed guardian must not have interests that conflict with those of the incapacitated person unless no alternative exists.
The incapacitated person must be present at the guardianship hearing, unless (1) a physician or psychologist states under oath that the incapacitated person would be harmed by being present; or (2) it is not possible for the incapacitated person to be present at the hearing due to his absence from the Commonwealth.
Yes. An incapacitated person may hire or retain counsel to represent her in a guardianship proceeding. Notice of legal representation by the incapacitated person must be provided to the Court seven (7) days before the guardianship hearing. Residents of state psychiatric hospitals and state mental retardation facilities must have counsel appointed to represent them in guardianship proceedings.
The incapacitated person may petition the Court for the appointment of an expert to perform an independent evaluation as to her capacity and one may be appointed for “cause”.
The duties of a guardian of the estate are included in the final Court Order appointing the guardian. However, the Pennsylvania guardianship statute includes a number of matters that may be handled by an appointed guardian of the estate, such as: inquiry, discovery and inventory of assets; safeguarding of assets; management of assets; payment of debts, obligations and expenses; and preparation of annual reports.
The duties of a guardian of the person are included in the final Court Order appointing the guardian. However, the Pennsylvania guardianship statute provides for the following duties: (1) assertion of the rights and interests of the incapacitated person; (2) respect for the wishes and preferences of the incapacitated person to the greatest extent possible; (3) participation, where appropriate, in the development of a plan of supportive services to meet the person’s needs; and (4) encouragement of the incapacitated person to participate to the maximum extent of her abilities in all decisions that affect her, to act on her behalf when she is able to do so, and to develop or regain her capacity to manage her personal affairs to the maximum extent feasible.
The Court may appoint a plenary guardian of the person and/or estate only when the Court concludes after hearing and review of evidence, that the person is totally incapacitated and in need of plenary guardianship services.
The Court will prefer to appoint a limited guardian if the person is partially incapacitated, but needs guardianship services. If the Court appoints a limited guardian, it must identify the powers of the guardian and those powers must be consistent with the Court’s finding of the person’s limitations. The partially incapacitated person retains all legal rights other than those designated by the Court’s order as areas over which the limited guardian has authority.
Yes. Unless expressly included in the Court’s Order based upon specific findings, a guardian does not have the power to (1) consent on behalf of the incapacitated person to an abortion, sterilization, psychosurgery, electroconvulsive therapy, or removal of a healthy body organ; (2) prohibit the marriage or consent to the divorce of the incapacitated person; and (3) consent on behalf of the incapacitated person to the performance of any experimental biomedical or behavioral medical procedure or to the participation in any biomedical or behavioral medical experiment.