Written by Chris Boyle, firstname.lastname@example.org Friday, 28 March 2014 00:00
Planning for your child’s future can be nerve-wracking enough when it covers just the basics such as grades, college, and a career; however, those worries can be a far cry from the potential issues that need to be dealt with when you add a child with special needs into the mix.
But help is out there, and with that help comes hope for a future as bright and fulfilling as any child’s, according to Marie Cantone, owner of Family Financial Services, an independent financial planning firm that she started nearly three years ago that specializes in serving the needs of families with special needs children. The help available to those with special needs was recently spelled out at a seminar at the Plainview-Old Bethpage Library.
Cantone, a West Babylon resident, had previously been in the corporate financial planning industry for eight years, but the humanitarian work she engaged in on the side eventually lead to a desire for a segue into a more meaningful aspect of her job as well.
“I’ve been involved in the special needs community for over 17 years...it’s a population that I’ve always liked and found interesting, and the more I got to know the people, the more I saw that they obviously needed help,” she said. “I decided a few years ago to make my practice with the people that serviced, and that’s how I got involved with the special needs community as opposed to continuing with my general practice.”
Cantone offers a series of free seminars to educate the public on their rights as it pertains to this subject. While at the library, she covered a variety of services that she offers families and children with special needs.
“We discuss things like letters of intent — what happens when you’re not around for your child — as well as guardianship, Social Security, wills and trusts and how to fund them,” she said. “It’s just a general life-planning session...what to do as your child gets older, the milestones and what steps to take. I also advise on legal issues as well...I’m not an attorney, but I do make suggestions on hooking them up with an attorney; I educate them on the need to engage with other services that I don’t provide as well.”
Saundra Gumerove, an attorney whose practice is limited to families with special needs children, is a frequent collaborator with Cantone; she also lectured that evening, and said that getting involved in her profession was brought about by a deeply personal event in her life.
“I got into this field because of my youngest daughter Lauren, who was born with a disability. At the time, I was doing high-end legal work for a bank, and I was devastated. And as time went on, I found that navigating the system for special needs people difficult,” she said. “Later, I was having another child and wanted to spend more time at home, so I opened my own law practice for special needs...I focus on things like special education, guardianship, government benefits, estate planning...whatever you need to do to protect the life of your child.”
Cantone notes that she helps her clients prepare for their children financially and set up any documentation that may be needed in the future; however, one of the most vital aspects that her assistance covers is making sure that a given child is set up to receive the maximum in government benefits that they are eligible for.
“If they have mis-steps in their planning, they can not have those benefits,” she said. “A typical parent thinks that, once their child is out of college and has a career, our job is done. However, with a special needs child, that worry lasts their entire lifetime because they’re not able to take care of themselves. You’re planning for your life and your child’s life, and that responsibility is the biggest difference. Government funding is decreasing in recent years so what’s going to happen when you’re not around to take care of your kid? That can keep people up at night.”
Barbara of Hicksville attended the seminar that evening to get some assistance in securing the future of her adult son.
“I’m interested in learning how to protect my son...he’s 47 years old and he has problems associating with people,” she said. “He’s been going to therapy for years for mental health issues and he’s on medication and lives at home. It’s the first time I’ve ever come to one of these seminars and I’m hoping it will help with his future.”
Nancy of Plainview were also at the seminar, and she said that she was there to get some help for a family member who is near and dear to her heart.
“I’m hoping to get a little bit of information...I have a granddaughter who has special needs, and I want to be aware of things that I can possibly do in the future,” she said. “I want to find out about financial planning for her and what benefits eligibility she may have as she gets older.”
The radical turn Cantone took with her career almost three years ago was clearly the right one; when you enjoy what you do and get to help people in need while doing so, you just can’t help but love it, she said.
“It’s just really meaningful, knowing you’re making a difference in someone’s life,” she said. “Our children are our most important asset, so I know that I help families take care of their children that when they go to bed at night, they can sleep better knowing that their kids will be okay, and that’s very rewarding to me.”