Families with Special Needs Children

Planning for the transition to adulthood and beyond.

Do you know a family with a special needs child? As the child grows into the teenage years and adulthood, many parents are concerned about how they will protect the child from financial, physical, and legal harm as they turn 18 years old and “age-up” into legal adulthood.

There are several different paths that can be taken to protect the young adult,  taking into account the child’s own needs and capabilities, and the family’s resources. Some of the protections include:

  • Guardianship – parents or adult siblings may need to maintain decision-making responsibility.
  • Alternatives to guardianship, including “Supported Decision Making Plans.”
  • Special Needs Trust – to protect SSI or Medicaid benefits while allowing for funding for future needs and protection of family assets.
  • Powers of Attorney – Durable and Medical.
  • Designation of guardians or substitute guardians in case of future disability.

Families are advised to begin the planning for their child’s future early, at least by age 17 ½ , in order to prevent gaps in the child’s legal protections.

This article does not constitute legal advice. It is to be used for descriptive purposes only. Please seek the advice of a competent lawyer in your state.


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What is an Executor of a will, and what are the duties of an Executor?

Clients often ask, “do I need to appoint an Executor in my will?”, and “what does the executor need to do?”  Appointing an Independent Executor in your Will is very important.  This will be the person who carries out your wishes for the payment of your final debts, and distribution of your estate.  This should definitely be someone you trust, and who will be responsible with your estate. The duties of your executor can vary depending on the complexity of your estate. Overall, the executor will manage your estate and ensure that everything is done according to the terms of your will.

Here are a few of the duties of an executor:

Protect Property and Pay Outstanding Debts

Make an Inventory of all property of the Estate

Estimate the Value of the Estate

Distribute the property according to the terms of the will

The main reason for having an executor is to facilitate the distribution of estate property to beneficiaries as efficiently as possible. To accomplish this, an executor may need to locate beneficiaries that haven’t come forward and supervise the distribution of all money and property in the manner outlined in the will. When all property has been distributed, the job of the executor is done, and the probate estate may be closed.

For more information contact a Probate attorney or Estate Attorney

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What will happen to your family if you die or become disabled?

Source: What will happen to your family if you die or become disabled?

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Rights of Grandparents and other relatives


Sometimes the road less traveled is the one that is right for a child. We might wish that all children could grow up in the home of their biological mother and father, but that is not the reality of our world, nor is it always in the child’s best interest.
If you are the grandparent or other relative of a child whose biological parents are unable to care for the child properly, I can help you get that child’s life back on track. Contact my Sugar Land, Texas, office at http://www.mmconnollylaw.com to discuss your personal situation.
Know the Rights of Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and Stepparents in Texas
Whether your main concern is rescuing a child from an unsafe environment, helping him or her develop in a positive and healthy way, gaining visitation or seeking termination of parental rights for an adoption, an experienced Sugar Land family law attorney like me can provide you with valuable guidance throughout the process.

My interest in cases like these dates back to the first one I handled. In that case, a grandmother had her daughter’s children to raise most of the time, but the mother would come back to get the children whenever her child support money was taken away. The grandmother had no legal rights to hold onto the children until we worked through all the legal issues to allow her to become her court-ordered conservator, receive the child support, enroll them in school and take care of their medical needs.

The sense of truly helping her, of keeping children with a family member and out of the foster-care system, was so rewarding that I have made a special study of non-parent adoption, grandparents’ rights, relatives’ rights and kinship care.

If you are concerned about the well-being of a child in your extended family, or a non-related child who has been living with you for an extended time, contact me to learn your rights and the actions you can take to protect, visit or adopt that child.

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Keys to Surviving Divorce

Going through a divorce can be a difficult time. Here are some tips to help you get the best result possible, while maintaining your sanity.

1.    Complete a thorough inventory of your assets and your needs

    Taking accurate inventory of your assets and their most current valuations is crucial in achieving a favorable outcome. Knowledge is power when negotiating the finances of your divorce. The inventory should include every asset you own from the cars to the retirement accounts to future pensions and social security payouts at a future age for you and your spouse. You should also make copies of all tax returns over the past 3 years. These returns can help explain a lot more than your income and taxes paid; they can help find potentially hidden assets, dividends, capital gains, depreciation, and business expenses.

          2.  Get your emotions out with your support group – not your lawyer

           The more emotional you are, the more costly your divorce could be. If you spend hours (or minutes) talking to your lawyer as if he/she was a therapist – the more costly your divorce will be and the less likely you are to be taken seriously. Think about your divorce as a business negotiation. You are hurt and angry, yes, but you are also negotiating your financial future. Vent outside the lawyer’s office so you can enter negotiations with a business mind set.

      3.  Settle out of court if at all possible.

      You may be forced to go to mediation before court. This is an excellent opportunity to curb costs and prevent a very lengthy, expensive war. Prior to mediation, know what you really want to keep, what you are willing to give up and then be prepared to spend the day giving and taking. In mediation, the divorcing parties have 100% control over how things will be settled, assuming they can come to an agreement. If your case goes beyond initial mediation, the costs could skyrocket. Do not let your pride and emotions hurt you financially by holding out on one or two issues that may seem paramount at the time. Consider this – can what I want to keep be replaced with a new version of the item with the money I’ll save by ending this now?

             4.  Ask for help.

        Divorce is expensive.  Maintaining a household as a single parent is obviously more expensive than a 2    income household. It’s okay to ask for help during this time of transition. Rely on friends and family for the extra support someone going through this process needs. This will help you keep your emotions out of the courtroom, the attorney’s office and out of your personal business dealings. It’s easy to let your emotions take over and talk about your divorce to anyone who will listen. This is not always wise. Use your friends and family during this time. If you do not have a network of friends or family close by, your local church may have a divorce recovery or divorce care group which can be very helpful.

      5.  Don’t forget your spouse’s employer benefits and plans

It’s important to know what your spouse is entitled to as you negotiate your financial future. Contact the Human Resources Department at your spouse’s employer and ask about any and all benefits. As a spouse, you are entitled to know about current and future benefits; be sure to ask if there’s a pension plan in place. Review your last two or three tax returns, which will list any interest earnings, dividends, or capital gains that were reported. By comparing the financial affidavit to the tax return, you can reconcile assets and look for omission.

       6.  Consider taking a one time, penalty-free 401k distribution during divorce.

Many people don’t realize each spouse, no matter what age, can take a one time, penalty free distribution out of a spouses 401k during the divorce process. You must take this distribution directly from the 401k – it’s not available from IRA’s without the 10% penalty. For example, if you want money to put down on a new home, you can take a one-time lump sum distribution from your soon to be ex-spouses 401k penalty-free to do this.

Beware of emotional attachment to your marital home.  The marital home and the retirement plans are likely to be the largest assets in your marriage. Many people – especially women – have such an emotional attachment to the marital home that they cannot imagine life in another house. However, the house comes with a mortgage, taxes, maintenance and repair bills.  A pension does not. It’s important to consider the type of assets you are getting rather than just achieving a 50/50 split. .

        7.  Identify and focus on what’s really important

We all have a finite amount of financial and emotional capital. It’s wise to spend yours in areas that are really important to you. By clearly articulating your needs and goals, you will expend less time, money, and emotional capital over the small stuff. Clarify the issues that are most important to you and focus only there.

           8. Avoid the gray areas & look down the road.

Gray areas in your divorce decree can lead to conflict in the future. This conflict hurts everyone – especially children. Plan for your children’s contingencies today to avoid conflict in the future. Who will pay for college? Who will buy the car when the kids can drive? Who will pay for insurance? How many extra-curricular activities will your child/children be involved in, and who will pay for these activities? Look at holidays – do you want to add Halloween or Easter to the holiday rotation? Is there a large family event annually which you want to establish rights to? Consider all your life events, and establish guidelines for possession of the children for those events as clearly as possible today to avoid conflict in the future.

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Divorce – Negotiation vs Litigation – What are you fighting about?

Divorcing couples in Texas may acknowledge that no two divorces are the same. While many couples manage to keep their divorce amicable by resolving all or most issues before going to court, other couples have to go through litigation in order to protect their interests. Some situations leave couples no choice but litigation, including when one spouse is abusive, self-obsessed and/or unwilling to compromise. However, such contentious divorces are in the minority, as only about 5 percent of all divorces fail to reach agreements out of court.

For couples that reach a point in the negotiation or mediation process where it becomes clear that issues cannot be resolved, it may be time to consider litigation. Because litigation can be a lengthy and costly process, individuals may want only to take this route after careful consideration. Some aspects to ponder before deciding include the assessment of each party’s emotional state. Thinking emotionally instead of financially could be detrimental to an individual’s life post-divorce.

Couples would be wise to analyze what they are fighting about. For instance, if the dispute is about the amount of child support or alimony that should be paid, mediation may eventually bring agreement. On the other hand, if the dispute is about whether support should be paid at all, the court may have to make a decision. Individuals may also want to contemplate whether they are financially strong enough to be able to afford litigation, as well as the impact the stress of litigation may have on the family.

Lastly, each spouse may wish to bear in mind that their interests and futures may be placed in the hands of a judge who knows nothing about either one of them. Texas couples that decide to opt for mediation and negotiation after carefully weighing the pros and cons of divorce litigation may find that mediation services are readily available. When litigation is unavoidable, it may be wise for each spouse to surround themselves with an experienced team to protect his or her interests in litigation.

For more information visit http://www.mmconnollylaw.com

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By Margie Connolly, Family Law attorney in Sugar Land.

This is an interesting question. The answer might surprise some.
Going through a divorce can be a devastating experience for many people. The experience can be even more traumatic when there are children involved, and in cases where one spouse is the stepparent of the children, the possibility of also losing the children must cause great concern. In many Texas cases, the stepparent has been part of the children’s lives for many years, but when the couple divorces, the stepparent has no legal rights related to child custody.

To gain legal child custody rights, a stepparent must adopt the children prior to the divorce. In order to do this, the ex-spouse — who is the children’s other biological parent — will have to relinquish all legal rights to the children. In cases where that parent refuses the request, the court may consider evidence that the absent parent is no longer part of the children’s lives or of harmful influence, and it may order termination of legal rights. If the stepparent can prove that there is a strong bond between him or her and the children and the ability to provide proper child care, the court may award primary child custody to the stepparent.

If a child custody application is not successful, the stepparent may seek visitation rights in order to continue an existing relationship with the children. Any legal rights obtained by the stepparent will include responsibilities such as support and assistance to the primary caregiver. When children are older, the court may consider their feelings, and a close relationship with the stepparent may improve the chances — even if it is only visitation rights.

The child custody laws in every state are different, and stepparents may benefit from a consultation with an experienced family law attorney. After evaluating and assessing the circumstances, proper guidance will be provided as to the best way forward. Effective presentation of your case in a Texas family court may result in a continued relationship between stepparent and stepchildren.

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