Families with special needs include parents, or other family members (either children or adults) with special needs, and individuals with special needs. These families face unique planning challenges and serious consequences if planning is inadequate or improper. If you, or someone you know, fits in this category, it is critical for you to remain proactive in your planning.
It is also vitally important to stay up to date with the constantly evolving options and rule changes that can impact special needs planning. As a society, we have come a long way from the old ways of planning for families with special needs, but this area will continue to be a unique challenge as governments reduce funding in areas that provide support to special needs families.
Unfortunately, all of these realities place an additional burden on these overloaded families. Because of this, you MUST have an effective plan in place if you have a loved one with special needs. Your loved one truly cannot afford to be without a plan.
Here are 6 practical tips for families with special needs to remember when planning:
1. Don’t disinherit the person with special needs. In the past, family members with special needs were often disinherited based on professional advice. We now have much more effective ways to provide for loved ones with special needs — ways that will enhance their quality of life and perhaps lift them to higher levels of achievement. Government benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicaid, have been developed to provide only the basic needs of an individual. In essence, this means just above the poverty line. If you want your loved one with special needs to have certain advantages and resources, then you need to make other plans to provide for them.
2. Don’t rely on siblings to use their assets for the benefit of a beneficiary with special needs. Again, an old way of planning was to leave assets to another family member with the hope that they would take care of their sibling with special needs. Sometimes this would work, but too many times there are problems that keep this from working. There are many ways in which a sibling can lose inherited assets meant for a special needs family member. Divorces, sudden death, lawsuits, bankruptcy or downright greed are just a few examples of what can go wrong with this old approach to special needs planning. Who would want to burden a sibling with this responsibility when there are better alternatives available that can protect all the siblings involved?
3. Don’t procrastinate. Many beneficiaries with special needs rely on other people for their care, so putting off planning can be especially costly to them. None of us know when our time will be up on this earth, so there is no perfect timeframe for planning (except right now). When it comes to planning, procrastination is costly for everyone, but it is particularly costly for those who rely on others to protect and provide for them. If effective planning is not in place when the primary caregiver passes away, the beneficiary with special needs will never be able to compensate for the potential losses. The assets needed to care for them will be gone forever. We cannot overstate how critical it is to plan ahead for loved ones with special needs.
4. Create a special needs trust (SNT) and carefully choose a trustee. Families with special needs must educate themselves about special needs trusts and how those trusts can benefit their child (or beneficiary) with special needs. One great resource for this is the Academy of Special Needs Planners’ website — a website exclusively designed for families with special needs.
It is also imperative for special needs families to choose wisely and invest time with their Special Needs Trustee. Taking time to learn about the topic and choosing a trustee will enhance the life of your special needs child (or beneficiary) long after you’re gone. Read more about special needs trustees on our blog.
Part of what The Bell Law Firm does for special needs families is to help talk them through who may be a good trustee. Our experience helps us know what type of person, or company, will be a good choice, and what to watch out for when choosing a trustee. We also work closely with the other advisors to make sure all are working together for the benefit of the beneficiary with special needs.
5. Learn about ABLE accounts. In late 2014, Congress passed the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE Act of 2014). Since then, states have passed similar legislation. ABLE (savings) accounts can be a wonderful tool for families with special needs. These savings accounts for beneficiaries with special needs have limitations in use (i.e. currently only $15,000 per year can be added to an account), but they make a wonderful companion for the Special Needs Trust. (Read our article “Special Needs Trusts and ABLE Accounts: Why You Probably Need Both” here.) As important, ABLE accounts are designed so families can manage these on their own and efficiently plan for their beneficiary with special needs. Most states have their own websites for their state-specific plans, but a good, content-rich source of information is the ABLE National Resource Center.
6. Stay updated on this changing area of law. Unlike other areas of law, special needs planning evolves rapidly. New alternatives become available (read about planning tools here) and changes in the law occur often, which means there is room for confusion, and plans need to be updated regularly. It is very important for families to stay abreast of issues in the area of special needs planning. As members of the Academy of Special Needs Planners, as well as ElderCounsel and National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, our law firm is a good resource for this ever-changing field.
If you, or someone you know has a person with special needs in their life, our firm can help you gather good team members to be a strong support for you and your family. This is a complicated area of law, with a lot at stake. We feel very strongly that it is our duty to help these families, many of whom do not have anywhere else to turn.
Because of this, your initial consultation will be no cost to you. Your first meeting with an attorney will be on us as we gather the unique details of your situation and best assess what type of help may be needed. We also have a network of special needs professionals to wrap around your beneficiary with special needs to customize a plan just for your family.
For all of these reasons, and many others that only apply to your unique situation, it is increasingly critical for special needs families to properly plan. We look forward to a chance to discuss your situation, review alternatives, and move in a positive direction to enhance your plans. Waiting can just prove too costly for the ones you love. Give us a call at 913-345-2323 to schedule a time to talk.