Legal Steps to Take After Your Child is Diagnosed with Autism

The weeks and months following a child’s autism diagnosis can be frightening and challenging for parents.  You may be worried about what the future holds and what to expect as you work to adapt to a “new normal” in your home.

While doctors and teachers will generally help parents start the ball rolling with Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Speech Therapy, and psychological support, very little attention is given to the legal and financial steps that parents need to start thinking about in order to prepare for the future.

Taking the time to sit down with a Special Needs Planning Attorney as soon as a child is diagnosed with autism can make a world of difference in the peace of mind that families experience and the quality of care that their child is able to receive. This is achieved in the following ways:

  1. Naming Guardians– A qualified Special Needs Planning Attorney will assist parents in creating a will and naming long-term guardians who could raise their child if something unexpectedly happens to mom or dad. This step is absolutely critical when a child has autism, as parents tend to know best the person(s) in the child’s life who can handle his or her special needs and give them the life he or she deserves if mom or dad were to become sick, disabled or pass away. Without such designations in place, the childcould end up in a lengthy custody battle, or worse, placed in foster care..
  2. Creating a SpecialNeeds Trust– A Special Needs Trust is a legal tool that ensures a disabled child’s health care and living needs are taken care of if something happens to mom or dad.  Without this critical tool in place, an inheritance left outright to a disabled child could void their eligibility for Social Security or Medicaid in the future (which is often the only health care option available for children with special needs).  Instead, a trust helps to ensure that the child receives such financial benefits without actually having assets in their name, thus leaving all government benefits intact.
  3. Building a Team of Support BEFORE it’s Needed– It’s never too early to start building a team of trusted caregivers and advisors who can immediately step in and help your  childif a crisis occurs.   Such team members may include the child’s legal guardians, a trusted doctor, financial advisor,special needs planning attorney and dedicated family or friends.  Building a team now also helps to ensure you have the right people in place, as opposed to someone who could prey upon your child’s weakness in an emergency.
  4. Having a Plan for Legal Issues that May Arise in the Future- A Special Needs Planning Attorney can help guide parents through the issues they may face in the future, whether that’s working with their child’s school for special accommodations or IEP concerns, or understanding the process the parents will need to take to become their child’s court-appointed legal guardian when he or she turns 18.  This way, parents can stay abreast of the issues that may be coming up down the road so that they are always prepared to make the best decisions for their child.

If your child was recently diagnosed with autism and you have not yet taken the time to talk to an attorney about planning ahead for your child’s future, we invite you to call the Law Office of Sheri R. Abrams to schedule an appointment..  We would be happy to meet with you to discuss your options and help you begin to develop a road map that gives your family peace of mind.

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