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As an attorney who works with quite a few families who have children, or adults, with special needs, we encounter families who have a difficult time talking with their loved ones about giving gifts. We also see the problems that these gifts can cause when they are given without consulting the parents of the child/adult with special needs or the special needs attorney.

In light of that, we thought we’d try to improve the communication between loving relatives, who may want to help, and the parents by providing a template of a letter that parents may use to communicate with loved ones. Many times, parents understand the complicated ins and outs of managing the benefits, therapies, and governments services their children/adult need, and it’s just a matter of effectively communicating that to other family members.

If you find this letter helpful, we encourage you to use it as a starting place to draft your own letter when/if appropriate. We understand what a sensitive topic this can be, but we also understand the massive ramifications that can come from relatives giving gifts without understanding the potential problems it can cause.

Dear Mom and Dad,

We really appreciate how much you love Emily and want what’s best for her. Your support means a lot to us. We don’t feel alone in our ongoing challenge to help Emily have the same opportunities as her friends. Thank you for the support.

We’ve been working with our attorney lately on our estate planning and providing for Emily. We’ve learned there are some things we need to be sure you know when it comes to supporting her. It’s not as simple as with the other grandkids.

For many of Emily’s treatments and therapies, she’s dependent on government benefits to pay for those things. We are lucky to qualify for a few of these benefits. And while we’re grateful for those benefits, it also complicates other areas, which is why we need to share this information with you.

Oftentimes, for kids with special needs, good intentions from relatives can also lead to big unintended problems. So, as awkward as it may seem, we need to be sure you understand her situation. We want to be sure, if you make a financial gift to Emily, that we don’t jeopardize the government benefits that are so vital to her.

There are several things we need you to avoid altogether:

  • Please don’t open any accounts in Emily’s name, or leave any accounts to Emily in her name. Unfortunately, this would give her assets that could affect benefits she really needs to keep, and we can’t afford to lose those benefits.
  • Even if you want to open an account that she can’t access until 18 or 21, we still ask that you don’t open an account with her name on it. Providing for her as an adult will be even more challenging, and if she has an account with her name on it as an adult, the impact can be devastating.
  • Savings bonds can also be problematic. I know this is a seemingly simple thing you like to do for your grandchildren, but these simple things can get complicated where Emily is concerned.
  • Any beneficiary designations that are connected to life insurance policies or IRAs where Emily is listed as the beneficiary can also cause big problems. We know you are just trying to help, but there is a special way those items would need to be left to Emily in order to not impact her benefits. We will be glad to share how those beneficiary designations need to be done.

After talking with our attorney, there are some good solutions we can use for Emily. We don’t want to discourage you from giving to Emily. It just has to be done with some extra care, caution, and forethought. A conversation ahead of time with us (and possibly our special needs attorney) can go a long way in making sure there isn’t a negative impact on Emily or her future.

Here are a few possible solutions for giving to Emily:

  • You can give the gift to us and ask us to hold it for her.
  • You can use a 529 account for her future educational needs.
  • You can contribute to an ABLE account for her that we’ve set up.
  • You can contribute to the Special Needs Trust we have for her.

While ABLE accounts are a wonderful recent development for people with similar challenges as Emily, there are limits on how much can be contributed to them per year. Emily can only have one of these ABLE accounts, so we would just need to coordinate these gifts with you.

The easiest option for giving would be to use the Special Needs Trust that we set up for Emily. This has the most flexibility, and you can also use it. I want to be sure to tell you more about this option at some point, because it’s an important one.

Again, we are so grateful for your help and support. We don’t want the special issues surrounding Emily’s care and finances to hinder you from giving to her. As with so many things in Emily’s life, it’s possible to reach our goals, it’s just a little more complicated than the other grandkids.

We are happy to coordinate all this with you, and we appreciate you talking to us before giving any gifts, so that we can make sure Emily’s benefits and quality of life are not negatively affected. We know we all want the same thing for Emily — a secure future where she can be as happy and healthy as possible. Together as a family we can work towards that for her.

As always, we at The Bell Law Firm are here to help you with any special needs planning issues you may have — whether that be guiding relatives in the best way to give to your child financially or any other special needs planning scenario. We also encourage you to check out our Special Needs Planning Resources page where you’ll find our Guide to Special Needs Planning and a Memorandum of Intent — an important planning tool for families. If you have any questions or concerns, please give us a call at 913-345-2323. We will be happy to speak with you!