Special Needs Planning



The Importance of Special Needs Planning

Caring for an individual with special needs takes special planning. All too often we put off the task of planning as it can be overwhelming. The thought is often daunting as it is difficult to begin what can be an involved, complicated process that takes a lot of time and energy. This article will outline some of the necessary steps you, with the assistance of a qualified attorney and other professionals, need to take to plan appropriately and thoroughly and will identify some pitfalls in the Special Needs Planning Process.

Letter of Intent

Putting together one's plans for the future of a child or dependent with special needs can be a daunting task laden with emotions. One way to get started is to compose a Letter of Intent. While the Letter of Intent is not a legal document, it is designed to serve as a roadmap for anyone involved with your child's situation to utilize in understanding your child, their needs and your wishes for your child when you are no longer able to carry them out yourself. This letter should detail medical history, daily care needs, activities, housing,and services as well as your specific wishes as it relates to your child's future. This document is a working document for your future caregiver to follow.

Your Will

Addressing legal issues is a crucial step in planning for the future. Creating and planning your estate is vital to meeting your child's lifetime needs. Prepare a will if you do not already have one. Update your will if you already have one in place. Make sure that it reflects exactly what you want for your child. A will declares how you want your estate to be distributed and also allows you to select a guardian for your child when you die. It may be especially important if you want to prevent or limit distributions directly to a child with Special Needs. Without a will the governing state will determine the distribution of assets and guardianship.

 

Special Needs Trusts

Many well intentioned parents don't realize that an inheritance may cause many problems for their child. Under current federal law, any inheritance of more than $2000 disqualifies individuals with diabilities from most federal needs based assistance. Benefits from state public assistance programs may also be affected. A Special Needs Trust, however offers a means of protecting your child's eligibility for these benefits, while addressing the ongoing care and needs of your child or family member with special needs. Design a special needs trust of update your old one. Be sure to include the individual or other key family members in the planing process when appropriate.

Guardian/Trustee

Select a guardian to take your place. Make sure you explain to this individual exactly what is involved. Be sure to give specifics to in an effort to make clear what the individual is taking on and what their role and responsibilities will be. Make sure that they want the job. Choosing the wrong people can be devastating for everyone involved. You may want to consider having a guardian, a trustee, and a trust protector. All three would have different roles in managing your child, the money and investments yet all involved and all contributing to the overall well being of your child. The important thing is to explore the options and identify what is right for your an your unique situation. There isn't a standard set up that is right for everyone.

Please be sure to avoid the following critical mistakes with Special Needs Planning


  • Disinheriting your child- You do have options. Often times individuals think that the only way they can protect their child's right to government benefits is to leave them nothing or not name them in their will. This action could possibly leave what happens to your child up to the state admistrators. These people don't understand the unique needs of your dependent. Chances are this is not what you want!
  • Procrastinating-Tomorrow will come and will seem much faster if you are not prepared.
  • Relying on your children to take care of their sibling. Put it in writing. Spell it all out in a Special Needs Trust accompanied by a Letter of Intent.
  • Choosing the wrong Trustee. Choose carefully and communicate your decision, your wishes, hopes and dreams for your dependent.
  • Poorly drafted Trust documents. Be sure to work with qualified professionals.
  • Failure to properly fund the trust. An unfunded or underfunded trust will not do anyone any good.



When doing your planning, please keep the following items in mind:



  • Observe the $2000 Federal Limit
  • Have a special needs trust drafted or update your old one
  • Select a Guardian/Trustee to take your place
  • Process Guardianship/Power of Attorney/Health Care Proxy papers for an individual who can not make any of these decisions for themselves
  • Include the individual with special needs in the process whenever appropriate
  • Prepare a Will if you do not already have one
  • Create a Letter of Intent
  • Update your documents. Make sure they reflect your current scenario and are valid in you present state of domicile
  • Review all documents with the person/persons named as Guardian/Trustee. Make sure that they want to take on this role and understand the responsibilitiy.
  • Work with qualified, experienced professionals. No short cuts. Everyone in the planning process needs to understand your family dynamics and your family member with special needs.
  • Team Work! Create your team of advisors. Always remember that it takes a whole village to raise a child.
  • Start Planning It's never too late or too early to start planning, it's the getting started that counts!



 


Texas Parent to Parent Statewide Resource Document: click here


Fort Bend County Resources: Click here


Reach for Kids: A resource guide for parents of Special Needs children in the greater Houston and Ft. Bend County, TX area.


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