Quite often, I receive phone calls from parents of a special needs child concerned about how to plan for that child should something happen to them. For every phone call I receive, I know there at least ten other families out there who have not thought about planning for their special needs child. Here are some things to think about:
Who should plan? Anyone who wants to leave money to a special needs child. That means parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings…..anyone. Many special needs children receive government benefits in the form of SSI and Medicaid. These public assistance programs require the special needs child to have limited assets and income. If the special needs child receives an inheritance or gift, they could lose their benefits. Thus, anyone wanting to leave life insurance to a special needs child should consider doing some planning so as not to cause that special needs child to lose their benefits.
When should I plan? The sooner, the better. But, some people do not have the time, the money, or the inclination to do it right away, especially when the special needs child is a baby. Well, how about when they turn 18? Did you know that, once your special needs child turns 18, you as a parent lose the right to make medical decisions for them and to make financial decisions (or school decisions). Definitely, when your special needs child turns 18, you need to start getting their affairs, and your affairs, in order.
What type of planning should I do? Well, for an 18 year old special needs child, depending on their disabilities, you should either have them sign a durable power of attorney, living will and health care surrogate designation, or if they are unable to sign, you may need to explore doing a guardianship or guardian advocacy.
For you, as the parent, you should consider a few things. First, and this does not require the help of an attorney, you should consider doing a letter of intent – this tells future caregivers how to take care of your special needs child. Second, you should get your own estate planning in order (Will, trust, durable power of attorney, living will, health care surrogate designation). You can establish a trust for your special needs child which will help protect them from losing their public benefits and can ensure that there are assets available to help take care of your special needs child after you are gone.
Attorney, Laurie Ohall, is an estate planning and special needs attorney based in Brandon, Florida, serving clients throughout Tampa Bay. If you have a developmentally disabled child that is close to legal age, contact a special needs attorney as soon as possible to determine the legal options that are best for your family.