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MS: Your Legal Rights and Planning For the Future

By Mary Pettigrew
Whether a person has multiple sclerosis or not, we all have legal matters to consider in our lives. When a diagnosis of a chronic illness such as MS comes into play, some of these legal matters are pushed into the forefront in a more expedient way.

I happen to have personal experience in many facets pertaining to legal matters which go beyond the typical of healthcare, disability, and the like. I’ve listed several areas of importance in which I spend much of my time discussing with other people with MS and chronic illness on social media and otherwise. Below are the factors that I feel are key components to focus on and to become aware of when living life with MS:

1. Filing for benefits - SSDI/SSI: Consult with your doctors or a Social Security attorney for references to know how and when to file for disability benefits. There are a number of resources and private groups on Facebook for help. For some people the approval process happens quickly, most likely for others it does not. Therefore, I recommend you seek out the assistance of a SSA lawyer for resources on such matters. Online groups can be helpful for support, but should never be substituted for important resources or otherwise.

2. Taxes and other IRS Issues: Whether married or not, consult with a CPA and trust lawyer for best advice. If you are unsure as to how to find the proper legal fit for you, feel free to search online for sample documents and resources. Once again, my suggestion is to seek out a CPA, your doctors or pro bono (free of charge) lawyer in seeking out further assistance. 

3. Divorce, custody, family law: The first, most important and obvious resource here is to hire a family law attorney. If finances are problematic, there are pro bono attorneys available to point you in the right direction. No matter what, the key advice I can give to you is to stay offline. Although what can be said, done, and posted in a purely innocent manner online, repercussions can turn out to be quite expensive and more dramatic in court than need be. For example, I had started a poetry blog and began communicating with others living with MS online for therapeutic reasons. Well, lawyers can often find ways to make this innocent way of online activity to make it look like you are doing wrong. That’s not always the case.

4. Social Media: Keep your personal life private! If or when going through the approval process of SSDI or SSI approval benefits, use caution when posting things online. Whether it be a personal blog or even a private group on Facebook, refrain from posting personal information that may possibly come back to haunt you with lawyers – no matter how innocent your words or activity may be. The same applies when going through any lawsuit or divorce or custody hearings. When in doubt, follow your gut and do not post.

5. ADA and discrimination: Seek out the rights and rules to protect you while employed and to advise employers of your rights. There are several government documents available to you and you employers to protect and inform.

6. Wills, inheritance, special needs trusts, insurance, real estate, etc.: This is very important – seek out the assistance or advisement of a CPA and a trust lawyer who specializes in such matters. There are various forms and guidelines available online, however, I highly suggest you seek out the professionals. Believe me, it’s worth the time and money to ensure your future.

Long story short, it’s important to address those issues involving working with doctors, lawyers, employment, income, SSA benefits, Medicare/Medicaid, taxes, property, powers, personal choice, family law, debts, mobility and knowing the most reputable websites of which can help you best navigate whether you are a patient, child or parent living with MS.