At The Coleman Law Firm, we take great pride in our service to clients with special needs family members. To deepen our knowledge and steep our expertise, I recently attended a Special Needs Planning Immersion Camp in Scottsdale, Arizona. Surrounded by dozens of the brightest attorneys dedicated to special needs planning in our country, we dissected the law, debated planning strategies, and poured over ideas to better provide our clients with security and certainty in planning for the future of their loved ones.
The number of people affected by disabling illness and injury is burgeoning. This is because the number of recognized disabilities is increasing, as is the life expectancy of persons with special needs, thanks to advances in medical sciences and technology. Unfortunately, the resources available for people with special needs and their families are all too scarce. This reality has only worsened in recent years with the limping economy and growing population of children and adults with special needs.
Relatives and friends of persons with special needs are affected, too. Disability often has a ripple effect on loved ones, creating tension, uncertainty and fear.
This is especially true for families who take on the role of day-to-day care. Parents, siblings and caretakers face terribly difficult questions like ‘Who will take care of my child with special needs when I’m gone?’ and ‘Will resources I leave my child be exploited by someone who doesn’t love them?’
Answers to these questions begin with special needs planning.
Where do we start?
Developing a practical and positive attitude is an ideal place to start. This means accepting that your loved one has a special need and that their future depends on your good advance planning. Declare a sense of balance and reality. Look for others who similarly affected. Support can be found through community organizations, like your local Arc and others, as well as through online websites and blogs.
Next, prepare yourself by learning about the disability and the law. Start by spending time with your loved one’s physician and acquiring knowledge to help you understand and navigate the future. Talking with an experienced attorney who understands the laws relevant to special needs issues is imperative.
What do we need to know?
While you may be helping your loved one with lifetime gifts and including them in your will or trust, you may also be jeopardizing their public benefits. Social Security Income (“SSI”) and Medicaid are programs designed to alleviate poverty and provide medical coverage to the needy. Because these programs are “means-tested,” an individual can lose their eligibility if they receive gifts from you during life or through your estate plan.
You should know that public benefits programs only provide the bare necessities of life, such as food, housing and clothing. These limited benefits will not allow
your loved one to enjoy any real quality of life beyond surviving.
Fortunately, our legislatures at the federal and state levels have established laws that permit a planning device known as a Special Needs Trust. These trusts allow you to provide a level of care and comfort to your family member with special needs without sacrificing their ability to receive public benefits. Make this goal paramount in your planning because no one can predict the future of the individual’s medical needs, their life expectancy or the cost of their medical attention. This means the value of continued access to public benefits programs cannot be understated.
Special Needs Trusts can be used for many different life-enhancing expenditures, like medical care with the facility or medical professional of choice; out of pocket medical, dental and vision expenses; funds for trips, recreational events, vacations and athletic training; supplemental education or tutoring; a personal care attendant; entertainment and hobby expenses; transportation (including purchase and maintenance of an automobile); special dietary needs; and the list goes on.
In summary, Special Needs Trusts give you the ability to make a plan tailored to your loved one’s needs that allows them to live the fullest life possible, even when you are not there to watch over them. These trusts can be formed to stand alone (separate from your estate plan) or incorporated into your will or living trust. The important thing is to discuss your options with an attorney who not only knows the law, but also understands how to design a Special Needs Trust with the flexibility and creativity to withstand an unknown future of the law and the circumstances your loved one may face.
What comes next?
Take the time to speak with an attorney at The Coleman Law Firm about a Special Needs Trust and make sure your loved one is always safe and well taken care. We will be honored to counsel you.
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