At some point in their life, every parent of a special needs child wonders, “What will happen to my child when I am gone” and “How will my child be provided for financially in my absence.” For parents of special needs children, it is especially important to create an effective plan for your child so that you can have peace of mind knowing that your child will be cared for physically and financially when you are gone.
Here are three steps that you can take to ensure that your special needs child is cared for both physically and financially:
1. Legally Name Guardians
Naming legal guardians is critical in making sure your special needs child is cared for by the people you want, in a way you want, if something unexpectedly happens to you and/or your spouse. Let’s face it; caring for a disabled child can be challenging. That’s why you’ll want to choose someone who will love and care for your child the way you do in your absence. You also want someone who will strive to give your child the opportunities and quality of life he or she deserves.
When choosing legal guardians, look beyond the obvious choices. Many times parents choose a guardian simply because they have the most financial resources at their disposal. Yet in step 2, you’ll learn exactly how to fund your child’s care so you can worry less about finances and focus more on finding the right person to care for your child if the unthinkable occurs.
Instead, consider the candidates whose values and outlook on life are similar to your own. You’ll also want to choose someone who is committed to your child for life, as many disabled children require supervision and support well into their adult years. Once you have decided upon your trusted guardians, document your wishes accordingly by doing a “Letter of Intent”. If you are not sure how to do one, here is a link to a sample one that can help give you a starting point – http://www.bridges4kids.org/letter-of-intent-form.pdf. Make sure to leave a copy of your legal documentation with your chosen caregivers, in addition to your child’s school, babysitters and even neighbors so everyone knows exactly who to call if something happens to you.
2. Set Up a Special Needs Trust
A “special needs” or a “supplemental needs” trust is a legal tool used by families to ensure their child has enough financial resources to meet their future needs without jeopardizing their eligibility for state or governmental aid. If your child already receives benefits from Social Security or Medicaid, you know that the benefits they receive are limited and cannot possibly cover all the expenses necessary to enjoy the quality of life you desire for your son or daughter.
For that reason, many well- meaning parents will choose to leave their disabled child a large portion of their estate in a will, without realizing their child could lose their benefits as a result (which in the case of Medicaid, may be the only health care option available to your child!). Instead, parents of special needs children should set up a special needs trust which will “hold” such assets for your child without actually putting them in his or her name. The assets in the trust will then be administered by a trustee of your choosing and according to the rules you set forth in your estate plan. This is the safest way to ensure your child will never require handouts and has everything he or she needs to enjoy a full, abundant life if your sudden death or incapacity occurs.
3. Build The Right Support Team
As much as we hate to admit it, no parent is invincible. At some point, disability, illness or even death may prevent you from giving your child the care he or she deserves. That is why it is critical that you start building a team of caregivers and trusted advisors now who can immediately jump in on your child’s behalf if a crisis situation occurs.
Building the right support team will ensure that you have the right people in place who will not take advantage of your child when he or she needs help the most. Ideal members of your team may include your chosen guardians, a trusted doctor or specialist, an estate planning attorney, a financial advisor and dedicated family and friends. As a final note, be sure to communicate regularly with your trusted team members about things such as your wishes, desires and expectations for your child so they know exactly what to do and how to help if called upon in an emergency.
Do you have questions about special needs trusts or are you concerned about your special needs child turning 18? Attorneys Laurie Ohall and Dana Kemper would be happy to talk to you. They offer a free 15 minute telephone call to discuss general information and questions. Please contact us or call the office at 813-438-8503 to schedule a complimentary phone consultation.