Parents who have children with special needs spend a lot of time thinking about the future. They may wonder, “Who will care for my child when I’m gone someday” or “How will we afford a lifetime of care?” The answers to these questions can feel so overwhelming that parents may feel “stuck” when it ultimately comes to creating a legal plan.
Parents may also have prior assumptions about special needs planning that can cause them to veer off track. We call them “Special Needs Planning Myths,” and making decisions based on these myths can be just as dangerous as indecision or procrastination. Here are three that we commonly hear in our office:
- “I already have a will” is one of the most common responses parents have when they are encouraged to meet with a special needs planning lawyer. The problem is that a will only comes into play after the parent dies. This document does nothing to ensure someone can oversee the disabled individual’s care if the parent is incapacitated or gets sick, nor does it help to deal with any medical or financial needs that the child may have during his or her lifetime. Likewise, any assets left in a will to a child with special needs will go to him or her outright, which can cause essential benefits like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to stop.
- “My other kids will look after my child with disabilities” is something we often hear from parents when creating a special needs plan. The parents may even choose to leave their child with disabilities completely out of their wills to protect public benefits, with the understanding that the other siblings will share the inheritance with their brother or sister behind the scenes. While we all hope that loving siblings would take care of a brother or sister with special needs, so many things can go wrong that puts the disabled child’s assets at risk. For example, what if one of the other siblings gets divorced or gets sued or winds up in debt? What if the sibling accidentally spends the money? Or what if the sibling passes away before the child with special needs? These scenarios are just too risky when it comes to planning for a child who may be completely dependent on others for a lifetime of care.
- “I don’t have enough assets” is another common objection to creating a special needs plan. However, special needs planning is about more than money. Part of planning also deals with the process of gaining legal guardianship, so that parents have the right to make decisions for their adult child with disabilities once he or she turns 18. These rights are not automatically granted to a parent, and there is a specific court process the family will need to go through for the right to stay in control. On the financial side, planning now allows others with resources to safely contribute to the child’s future well-being. For example, people can give money directly to a Special Needs Trust. There are also other inexpensive ways to fund a child’s special needs plan, such as taking out a life insurance policy that will transfer to the Special Needs Trust once the parent passes away. Again, the younger the parent is when he or she sets up such a policy, the lower the premiums will be.
If you’d like more information about setting up a special needs plan in a way that meets all of your child’s unique needs without falling into the trappings of some of the myths we mention above, please call the office to set up an appointment.