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Estate Planning for a Special Needs Child

March 20, 2024

Creating an estate plan ensures your family is taken care of in case something happens to you. Anyone can benefit from an estate plan, but for parents with special needs children, it’s essential. Without a plan, a loved one with intellectual or developmental disabilities can end up in a court-appointed guardianship. In addition, if the child receives an inheritance, it could limit their eligibility for certain government benefits that can help them in the future.

 Get Help from the Experts

During the estate planning process, you’ll need to answer some important questions. That’s where consulting with professionals who focus on special needs planning comes in. They’ll be able to guide you and explain the legal and financial complexities of estate planning for a special needs child. Here are some of the questions to ask before you begin:

  • Will your child need support through adulthood?
  • What options do you have when it comes to saving for your child’s future, and which ones works best for your family?
  • Who do you trust to act as your child’s guardian?
  • How would you want your own decisions to be made — for you and for your family — if you were to become incapacitated?

What Should Your Estate Plan Include?

An estate-planning attorney can help you get all of the pieces of your estate plan in place. But know it will likely include the following: 

  • Letter of intent. Also known as a care plan, this is a guide documenting how to care for your special needs child. Beyond healthcare and medications, it can include things like your child’s routines, diet and activities. Its purpose is to help someone else care for your child when you’re not there to do so.
  • Guardianship. If you don’t name someone to be a guardian to your child, the state will do so. Depending on your child’s needs, whoever you appoint may need to be prepared to look after your child even after they reach adulthood.
  • Trusts. Special needs trusts can provide financial stability for your child without making them ineligible for government assistance. Trusts can hold a third party’s assets or assets belonging to the person with a disability. A professional can help you decide which is more beneficial for your situation.
  • Power of attorney. In addition to appointing someone to look after your child’s well-being, you can also designate someone to make decisions on your behalf if, for some reason, you can’t.
  • Medical and legal documentation. You’ll need to provide documentation of health insurance, medications and medical history along with your child’s social security card and birth certificate.
  • Government assistance documentation. Keep a list of the benefits your child receives and any important relevant information, like contact details and account credentials.

Don't Wait to Make a Plan

So much goes into a child’s full and healthy life — including financial stability, proper care and emotional support. Creating an estate plan can ensure that they will have access to all of these things, whether you’re there or not. Keep in mind that priorities, needs and relationships can change over the years. So be sure to review your estate plan regularly, and update it as needed.