Last week, we discussed what to look for when hiring a Social Security disability attorney, but that is not the only attorney you may encounter during your disability journey. It is very important to understand the different kinds of attorneys you may need, costs of an attorney, and what to disclose to your attorney.
There are many different kinds of attorneys you may encounter on your disability journey including: elder law, special needs trust, divorce/family law, and criminal law.
— Elder law attorneys specialize in estate planning, wills, power of attorney documents, asset protection, and Medicaid, which are all necessary tools for HD families. Cost depends on legal services and documents provided, there are attorneys who work on a sliding scale fee basis, which is based on your income, and there are organizations that provide low cost or free assistance (but many are only for people 55 and older). A good place to start is the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys: https://www.naela.org/
— Special needs trust attorneys specialize in special needs trusts, which are very complicated and require the right attorney for the job. Special needs trusts help protect assets for the care of the individual with HD, but also allow the individual with HD to be eligible for important government benefits like Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid. A good place to start is Special Needs Alliance: https://www.specialneedsalliance.org/
— Family law attorneys specialize in marital dissolution, child custody agreements, and domestic violence issues. Divorce is fairly common for HD families so it is important that the needs and wishes of the HD individual are protected as much as possible. This may require a guardian ad litem or family assistance if the individual with HD is more cognitively impaired at the time of the divorce, which will need to be shared with the attorney. The attorney will assume their client has the necessary decision-making skills in the divorce, child custody, etc. process unless they are told otherwise. If you need financial assistance, legal aid often provides free or lost cost family law assistance to families in need.
— Criminal law attorneys specialize in representing clients through the process of being charged with a crime and their defense. Getting arrested and being charged with a crime is all too common for individuals with HD and it is VERY important that the HD diagnosis and how it relates to the crime (which is likely) is disclosed to the attorney. The criminal law attorney cannot adequately represent someone with HD if they do not know they have HD. If an individual with HD is arrested and charged with a crime, it will also be important to notify their medical care team and social worker, who may be able to provide important assistance in the process. If an individual with HD cannot afford a criminal law attorney, they will be offered a public defender.
Most attorneys will not have Huntington’s disease specific knowledge so it will be very important to educate your attorney, advocate for your needs, and you can broaden your search by looking for attorneys who have neurodegenerative disease experience (ALS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s).