Caring for a special needs family member is a labor of love. Frankly, so is planning for a special needs family member. Far too often, amazing individuals who spend so much time and effort caring for a special needs family member do not spend the requisite time and effort planning for a future where they are no longer available to care for their loved one. Even if they do, they are often influenced by the wrong factors, or given bad advice. As a result, decisions are made which are not in the long-term best interests of a loved one with special needs.
Because special needs planning is so closely integrated with various aspects of retirement planning, estate planning, and often guardianship or conservatorship issues, it is a process in which you need to speak with a qualified attorney who is experienced in special needs planning. As a member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners, our principal attorney, Gary Altman, has the knowledge and understanding necessary to navigate the complexities of special needs planning with you and your family.
Ensuring the Best Life and Care for Special Needs Family Members Through Planning
As most individuals with a special needs family member know, their situation is not unique. In fact, one in ten families in the U.S. have a child or loved one with special needs. Current U.S. Census data states that 2.8 million school-aged children (5.2%) have special needs disabilities as defined under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This is a societal issue which is only growing in significance, and the government will often provide assistance to those with special needs. But this government assistance usually fails to cover the real cost of caring for a family member with disabilities. Many family members caring for special needs children or loved ones are unaware that they can establish a Special Needs Trust designed to care for the long-term needs of that particular individual.
Special Needs Trusts can pay for many expenses the government does not, without the risk of losing government benefits. Such costs could include dental care, insurance, education, therapy, essential equipment, and other basic costs of living. Family and friends can also contribute to the Trust, and the Trust can serve as the beneficiary of insurance policies, along with many other benefits associated with all Trusts. Most importantly, a Special Needs Trust can provide certainty after you are gone.
Common Mistakes in Special Needs Planning
- Procrastination: Putting off tough decisions is a common problem in estate planning. The problem is only magnified when it comes to providing essential planning for your special needs child or loved one.
- Disinheriting a special needs family member: Many families believe this step is necessary to ensure a special needs family member receives government benefits, but this step is not necessary with proper special needs planning.
- Establishing a general trust or non-specific Special Needs Trust: Your loved one needs a Special Needs Trust, which provides for their specific needs and receives specific tax and benefits eligibility treatment. Moreover, your family member has specific needs which require particularized planning solutions – not a “one size fits all” solution.
- Not inviting family to contribute to a Special Needs Trust: Other family members can assist in the future care of a special needs family member through contributions, or including the Special Needs Trust in their own estate plans.
- Relying on the rest of the family after you are gone: The only constant with family dynamics is that they change over time. There are often complicated emotional, financial, and timing considerations involved with committing to care for a special needs family member in the future. Without a specific plan and proper financial support in place, your loved one’s future is not secure.
- Choosing the wrong Successor Trustee: A major component of a Special Needs Trust is selecting a Successor Trustee to take over after you have passed. Too often, individuals who lack proper ethical standards due to greed or circumstances – even family members – will take advantage of their power over the Special Needs Trust.
Our attorneys understand the pitfalls of special needs planning and can help you avoid mistakes.
Naming a Trustee or Successor Trustee to a Special Needs Trust
It is sometimes advisable for an independent professional Trustee, like an attorney, CPA or Trust Company, to act as a Trustee or Successor Trustee to a Special Needs Trust. Because family dynamics are often so complicated, it is sometimes in the best interest of the special needs individual to have an independent person act as the Trustee or Successor Trustee of a Special Needs Trust. This way, not only can the family do what they do best, i.e., love the individual with special needs, but you can better ensure that the terms of the Special Needs Trust will be followed, and that the Trustee will act independent of any internal family complications. Still, only an independent professional Trustee with a high level of knowledge regarding the legalities and ethical considerations of serving as Trustee should be entrusted with this great responsibility. Our firm has over 20 years of experience working with families to establish and execute long-term special needs planning goals – especially through Special Needs Trusts.
We’re Here to Help Secure the Best Future for Your Loved One
Special needs family members are like any other family member – they deserve love and care. But it takes more planning and resources to properly care for special needs children or loved ones. If you need to engage in special needs planning, we are here to help. Contact us by phone at (301) 468-3220 or online to schedule a special needs planning consultation.