Parents who find themselves caring for a special needs child have many questions. Some of these questions include:
- What will happen to my child when I am no longer around to care for them?
- Who will step in to help?
- What financial arrangements do I need to make to ensure their continued care?
These can be difficult questions to answer. Parents with special needs children have many concerns, and careful planning is needed to protect the interests of those children. Parents do not always know where to turn for help. Here, we’ll discuss some of the first steps parents should take in order to ensure the children’s future well-being and care.
First Steps: Assessing Needs
The first step in any long-term plan is to assess future needs. For parents with special-needs children, this is even more critical. To answer the question “What will happen to my child when I am no longer around to care for them?”, you need to start the planning process right away.
As you begin to plan, consider aspects like:
The child’s future prognosis – will he or she ever be able to live independently? Will the child be able to work or manage financial assets on their own? Will his or her health deteriorate over time, requiring additional care?
Finances, both current, and future – while exploring finances, it is important to look at things like current available assets, future expenses, and what is needed to cover any financial shortfalls. What assets do you have now, and what might you need later in order to continue care for the special-needs child?
Living arrangements, both current and future – after you die, where will the child live? Who will the child live with? If the health of the child deteriorates, what specific facilities are available to provide the needed medical care? These are all questions to consider in the planning process.
Government benefits – while there may be a wide range of government benefits designed to provide financial assistance to parents of special-needs children, these benefits are often cloaked in mystery and confusion. There are both entitlement and needs-based programs available, each with their own parameters. It is critical during the early planning stages to determine what government programs are available, what they cover, and how to apply for them.
Next Step: More Planning
We’ve only just begun the planning process. After assessing the current and future needs of the child as well as some of the financial considerations, we’ve developed a good foundation. Next, it’s time to look at specific planning aspects, especially legal, financial, and medical considerations.
Legal planning – when you die, how will your assets be distributed? Do you have a will or a legal trust? Who is a named beneficiary of any assets you have? Who is designated as the caregiver when you die? These are some of the many legal questions to ask during the planning process. An attorney, particularly one that specializes in estate planning, can help.
Medical planning – many special-needs children require specialized healthcare. Over time, some conditions worsen, leading to more aggressive medical care and even specialized facilities to provide the care the child needs. During the planning process, assigning a surrogate to make critical healthcare decisions for you after you die is extremely important.
Financial planning – this is tied to the legal aspects of your plan. Some considerations to think about are what sort of financial aid programs may be available, the steps one can take to provide an adequate financial cushion, and how assets are arranged and invested to ensure continued financial support after you die.
Big Step: Seeking Professional Help
Parents of special-needs children have many questions and concerns. Doing the bulk of the planning on your own can be very daunting. When the needs of your child are paramount, it’s time to seek professional help.
Estate planning lawyers can help by establishing legal documents that protect your family’s interests long after you pass away. In order to avoid the court expenses and time associated with wills and probate court, many special-needs parents opt for legal trusts. Trusts are legal entities that “own” a person’s assets, protecting those assets from creditors and other potential expenses. There is a special needs trust that is designed expressly for the legal and financial protection of special needs children. This kind of trust is critical, as it can protect a child’s ability to remain eligible for government programs like Social Security supplements and Medicaid programs. Under normal circumstances, leaving financial assets to a child in a will can jeopardize that child’s eligibility, because those assets may be viewed as income. The special needs trust, on the other hand, forms a shield; assets are paid to the trust rather than the child, and the child can access them as needed for care and other expenses.
Financial planners are another great resource to take advantage of when planning for the continued care of a special-needs child. Financial planners can help you develop a game plan to maximize the value of current assets as well as to establish the means needed to build assets for future use. Special accounts and plans may be available to help ensure a stable financial future for your child and his or her care long after you die.
Consulting with professionals like financial planners and estate attorneys is not free – but these expenses are more than overcome by the peace of mind you will have knowing that your child will be cared for long into the future.