The fairy tale is getting married, buying a house and then having a baby. Do you remember how excited you were to find out that you were pregnant? All you want is a healthy baby. When people ask you if you prefer a boy or a girl, the standard answer is, ” I just want a healthy baby.” But, not everyone has a healthy baby. 1 in 68 children are born with Autism. Each year there are about 6,000 babies born with Down Syndrome in the United States, and according to the March of Dimes, 1 out of every 33 babies born each year in the United States has a birth defect. The numbers are staggering and disheartening, and when it is your child, there are many legalities that need to be addressed for your child. As a parent, it’s important to have a resource that you can trust and depend on to help you understand and make the best decisions for your child’s care. Leona Filis is a Special Needs Attorney, who has built her practice by being a partner and a resource to parents and helping them navigate those tough decisions.
Leona grew up in the Houston area in a Greek family, and she grew up in a strict household. In order to get out of the house, Leona joined every organization she could think of, and she thrived in them. When she graduated from High School, Leona moved in with her Grandmother to take care of her after she had a stroke. She was at the University of Houston at the time, and while she was taking care of her Grandmother, she found out that her college tuition was also not being paid. Feeling devastated she took the semester off, and started to waitress and took classes at HCC and got her Associates in Science, which she transferred over to the University of Houston. When Leona’s Grandmother passed, she moved to Austin and went to the University of Texas and graduated.
When Leona’s Grandmother passed, this was significant to her, because she had the knowledge of what it took to care for someone who was completely dependent on her. Leona realized that she was a caregiver, and also excellent at it, which serves her well as a Special Needs Attorney. When Leona graduated, she took the LSAT and went to South Texas in 1999. Although it took Leona 9 years to get her four-year degree, the road she took to get it taught her that she could do anything she put her mind to and that she learned to appreciate her education.
When Leona had finished her law degree and passed the bar, she was a law clerk and during Hurricane Allison, her court hosted other courts, and she was able to view other types of law. What she realized is that she found the family courts the most interesting because of the passion that these attorneys had for the children and that most of the family attorney’s back then were women, so that was going to become her focus.
In 2003, Leona started her own firm, but that wasn’t how she became specialized as a Special Needs Attorney.
Leona got married in 2004, and she got pregnant immediately. She was over the moon. Her daughter was born April 22, 2005, stillborn. She was devastated. The pregnancy was high risk, and she had gestational diabetes and a C-section she had problems bouncing back from. She got pregnant again and had a miscarriage. Leona didn’t know if a child was in the cards for her, but then she had her son, Jonathan in March 2008.
Jonathan is the light of her life. He is also autistic. He was non-verbal for the first few years of his life, had several development delays, had fixations, but he could read. Leona saw the signs early and had him tested. She got him the help that he has needed and through all of this, she has learned a new set of caregiving skills, those for a son with autism. Eventually, Leona and her husband got a divorce, and she has had to face a whole new set of challenges.
When Leona started to go through the system with Jonathan, she realized that the niche of a Special Needs Attorney wasn’t being filled. Then, when the divorce happened, Leona realized even further that a Special Needs Attorney, who also could specialize in the area of Divorce, would really be helpful. The statistics of divorce are that 50% of all married couples get divorced, which is a huge number, and some of those divorces have children with special needs, which makes those divorces even harder, especially when it comes to co-parenting. Leona has walked the walk and can talk the talk.
Special Needs Attorney
In a courtroom, at a mediation table or her client’s kitchen table, Leona Filis works hard to help families with children with special needs get relevant and real legal advice. Legal documents and court filings must be tailored to address the actual needs of families with a child with autism, Down Syndrome, muscular dystrophy, or any other diagnosis where extra protection and accommodations apply. Over the years since her son’s diagnosis of ASD, Leona has had many discussions with similarly situated friends who provided perspective as to the realistic wants and needs of families with loved ones with disabilities. Her experience allows her to see the big picture and help parents plan for their child’s future with Estate Planning including Special Needs Trusts and carefully-crafted Wills.
As a Special Needs Attorney, Leona offers realistic expectations, tells the parents what happens and what can happen and keeps clients involved in what is going on. She is very detailed oriented and tackles each issue with the parents as a team. She helps the parents if their children are ready to get mainstreamed.
Leona Filis will be giving a Workshop on May 21, 2016 from 9 – 12 pm at 49 Briar Hollow to talk about the steps to consider when raising a child with special needs.
Topics Leona will cover will include:
- Medicaid Waiver Programs and government benefits
- DID evaluations for IQ or Executive Function loss
- Special Needs Trust
- life insurance and disability insurance
- Wills, POA, and Medical POA
- Section 504 and Special Education
- Guardianship or the least restrictive alternative
- 529A accounts
There will be a full Q & A the last 90 minutes of the workshop, so be sure to write down all your questions!
Breakfast will be served, and the cost for the event is $25/person.
To sign up for the workshop, please click here.
My goal as a Special Needs Attorney is to be a partner in the children’s lives and a resource to the parents to help the children from the first step to the very last step.