NAELA Aids Win for Children With Disabilities of Retired New Jersey Police and Firefighters

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New Jersey Supreme Court decision allows survivor benefits to be designated to a third-party special needs trust.

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The New Jersey supreme court’s decision to allow children with disabilities of retired police and firefighters to receive their parent’s survivor benefits without the risk of losing public assistance was in part due to the assistance of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) and NAELA members.

Thomas Saccone sought to direct to a special needs trust the portion of his retirement benefits earmarked for his son, Anthony. Anthony suffers from a severe mental disability and receives public assistance through Medicaid.

Special needs trusts make it possible for persons with disabilities to receive public assistance through Medicaid, a means-tested program, to pay for the high costs of long-term care and to still afford basic expenses such as personal care items, books, and clothing. In return, states have the right to recoup the costs of its public assistance from the trust after the person with disabilities passes away.

Initially, the Board of Trustees of the Police and Fireman’s Retirement System (PFRS) refused to consider Saccone’s request, holding that Anthony would need to make the claim after his father died. After years of litigation and appeals, the New Jersey Supreme Court sided with Saccone, allowing him to direct his survivor benefits to Anthony’s special needs trust. Read the decision.

NAELA member Donald Vanarelli, CELA, CAP, represented Saccone throughout the process. NAELA also partook in the suit by filing an amicus brief in support of Saccone.

Other NAELA members involved were John W. Callinan, CELA, CAP, who filed the brief on behalf of NAELA and argued before the Court; NAELA President-Elect Shirley Berger Whitenack, Esq., CAP; NAELA Board member Ron Landsman, Esq., CAP, who filed a brief for the Special Needs Alliance and argued before the Court; and NAELA members Robert F. Brogan, CELA, CAP, and Dan Jurkovic, CELA, who filed on behalf of the NAELA New Jersey Chapter, which Mr. Jurkovic argued before the Court.

Members of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) are attorneys who are experienced and trained in working with the legal problems of aging Americans and individuals of all ages with disabilities. Established in 1987, NAELA is a non-profit association that assists lawyers, bar organizations, and others. The mission of NAELA is to establish NAELA members as the premier providers of legal advocacy, guidance, and services to enhance the lives of people with special needs and people as they age. NAELA currently has members across the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. For more information, visit


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Abby Matienzo, Communications Associate
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