Parents of children with special needs usually share one overriding concern: what will happen to my child after I’m gone? They also often struggle with guilt for what they envision as an eventual destiny for their other children who may assume care of their special needs sibling.
But I’m here to tell you, this is the kind of situation estate planning was made for. You can take action right now to ensure your special needs child has the proper care for the rest of his or her life. As you consult with your attorney to create a special needs trust or other estate planning tools, be sure to consider the following:
The amount of financial support your special needs child will require over his or her life. Start by calculating how much support you are providing now. Then think about the support they will need as they reach adulthood and project what that amount will be all the way into their senior years. Consider if he or she will be able to provide any of their own support, or will rely completely on government benefits. Of course, you also need to estimate how much you are able to contribute.
Governmental benefits protection. If your child already receives government benefits from Medicare or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), your plan will need to take this into consideration and not provide your child with too much income which would disqualify them from these benefits. Usually, a special needs trust will enable you to provide your child with additional income without losing governmental benefits.
How your other children fit into your estate plan. A vast majority of parents want to ensure equal treatment for all their children when it comes to an inheritance. But sometimes, with a special needs child, this is not possible – especially if parents have limited financial resources. If this will be true for your family, be sure you talk with your other children about your plan, and discuss how distribution of other assets might help to even things up for them.
Who will manage your special needs child’s finances. When you create a special needs trust, you will also need to name a trustee or trustees to manage the trust assets for the benefit of your child. Choose someone you know, who cares about your child, and who is willing to assume and carry out the responsibilities of caring for him or her.
On one hand, parents of special needs children are no different than any other parent. We all do whatever needs to be done to protect and provide for our children, no matter what. On the other hand, parents of special needs children often have to go far above and beyond what most other parents have to deal with. And the universal question of, “how do I want my child cared for after I’m gone?” becomes complicated and multi-dimensional. But with special care and planning, those parents can also ensure their child’s care will continue in alignment with their desires, hopes, and dreams for the future, no matter what.