As parents of a special child, you are far from being alone. In the U.S., approximately 6% of all children have special needs, which equates to over three million children nationwide. Special education, therapy, medical care, and life supervision for significantly disabled children can create a financial burden that few parents can handle on their own.
Fortunately, numerous state and federal government programs exist to assist you with these burdens. Your child’s ability to use these services can hinge on your effective estate planning. For resources on planning your estate so your child's needs will be met, please call (800)462-5772 to contact a caring member of Stern Law, PLLC team.
What Is Estate Planning and Why Do I Need a Cerebral Palsy Attorney?
For families with disabled children, careful, detailed, and effective estate planning is absolutely essential to ensure your loved one is cared for and protected even when you are no longer there to do so. Estate planning is defined as the process of deciding how to distribute your assets both during your life and after your death. Advance estate planning is important for everyone, but takes on additional significance for those with disabled children.
Without proper estate planning, appointment of a guardian for your minor disabled child may be left to the discretion of the court. Further, in the absence of careful trust creation, your disabled child may lose his or her eligibility for Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, and Medicaid. The significance of government assistance is often of critical magnitude to your disabled child, especially considering the ever rising costs of health care and living expenses. Without essential estate planning, your disabled child may receive monies he or she is incapable of managing. This may lead to a declaration of incapacity.
Estate Planning Assistance From Our Cerebral Palsy Birth Injury Lawyers
While a will often represents a great first step towards creating an estate plan, for families with disabled children, a will alone will simply not suffice. Special planning is required for special needs children. Here are some reasons why disabled children require more detailed estate planning:
- Disabled children frequently have considerable medical and caretaker expenses, which your assets may be unable to fully cover. In fact, some experts estimate that lifetime expenses for a severely disabled individual can reach between $5 and $10 million. For this reason, eligibility for SSI and Medicaid is vital. A will or regular trust can prevent your special needs child from being eligible for this assistance, or require that they “spend down” those hard earned assets in order to gain eligibility. A special needs trust is one of the only ways to provide assets for your child without impacting governmental assistance receipt;
- Special needs children often require a good deal of care, sometimes for life. This makes selection of a guardian for your minor special needs child imperative. You must also consider the possibility that this guardian may become incapacitated or pre-decease your child given the lengthy period of care required. For this reason, a form will or one you create yourself is ill-advised as you will require more detailed instructions;
- Your guardian will need special guidelines. You have fought since your child’s birth for him or her to receive the finest care and education available. You likely have certain guidelines for your child’s care and would want your child’s potential guardian to be informed and to follow these. A letter of intent can set forth a range of information, including scheduling, contact information for special education teachers, medical professionals, the likes and dislikes of your child, etc.;
- Your disabled child may not be capable of managing assets he or she inherits through a will or trust. Simply passing down your assets in these traditional estate planning forms may result in your special needs child squandering monies or being taken advantage of;
- Your adult child may require limited conservatorship. If your child over the age of 18 is unable to make his or her own financial or medical decisions due to disability, you can petition for conservatorship of an adult child. Without this essential provision, you will be totally without power to act legally on your child’s behalf;
- Special needs children may require a medical power of attorney. In the event of your death, your disabled child who is unable to make his or her own medical decisions will require appointment of a medical power of attorney, whom you trust to make the crucial health decisions you are unable to;
- The trustee you select to manage your trust will have significant responsibility. Trusts involving special needs children often require the appointment of co-trustees which may include a professional trustee such as an attorney or bank. Given the special considerations in setting up a trust for a special needs child, an attorney with significant experience in disabled children estate planning is absolutely necessary;
- You should take special care in selecting a life insurance policy. Disabled children may be dependent upon you and your spouse for the next 20 to 30 years or longer. For this reason, a cash-value policy often trumps term life insurance. The life insurance policy should be directed to a special needs trust you create; otherwise, it can prevent your child from qualifying for governmental assistance;
- Your child may have assets that should be transferred out of his or her name. Just as your inheritance can impact your child’s eligibility for SSI or Medicaid, his or her own assets will as well. A special needs trust can be self-settled or first party, allowing these assets to be removed from your child’s name;
- Appointment of a guardian requires special considerations. Often, a parent’s first thought is to appoint a disabled child’s sibling to be their guardian. While this may be a wise choice, much consideration needs to go into selection of the guardian. Special needs children can require significant care on many different fronts, including physically, medically, educationally, emotionally, and financially. Your selected guardian should have the time, resources, and desire to take on such a task. Before definitively setting out your guardian selection, weigh all relevant considerations and discuss the matter with an attorney.
These are just a few of the many reasons why your disabled child requires much advance estate planning. A knowledgeable special needs estate planning attorney will examine your individual situation and be able to more accurately assess your child’s estate planning needs.
If you're unsure how to get started with estate planning, please call Stern Law, PLLC at (800)462-5772. We are pleased to answer legal questions and provide information about non-legal matters absolutely free.