An estate plan is a crucial piece of every family’s future, but it’s especially important if you have a special needs child. Your estate plan will need to be tailored to fit the goals you have for your children, taking into account their health, their age, their abilities, governmental benefits, and more. To create the best possible solution, you will need to work with an attorney who has experience with estate planning for a special needs child. An Internet search can’t compete with the expertise of a reputable lawyer, of course, but to help you get started, we’ve compiled a list of strategic estate planning tips for families with a special needs child.
Estate Planning for a Special Needs Child
Draft a will. Although you should go much further than this (see the tips below), if you do nothing else, at least take the time to draft a will so that you can name a guardian for your child. It is also a good idea to consider creating a letter of intent or guidance, so that your chosen guardian will know how to care for your child should the situation arise.
Create a special needs trust. A special needs trust is helpful because it benefits a family member with special needs without disqualifying them from governmental benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid. Rules regarding special needs trusts can be strict and complicated, and they often vary by state and source of funds, so ask a reliable attorney for help as you create and manage the trust.
Look for a trustworthy trustee. A special needs trust will require you to name a trustee. Generally, the child should not be the trustee because this may cause the trust assets to be an available resource. The trustee you name will be responsible for administering your assets for the benefit of your child, so be sure to choose someone you can trust. Additionally, look for someone who you can depend on for decades to come, long into your child’s future.
Coordinate between relatives. If other relatives plan to leave an inheritance to your child, be sure to coordinate their plans with your own estate plan. For example, if a grandparent leaves a large amount of money to your child outright, your child could be at risk for losing governmental benefits. The best plan is to review and coordinate all of your estate plans, so that your child will receive the best possible outcome.
Manage your child’s current assets. If your child already has significant assets (for example, inheritance, gifts, child support, a lawsuit settlement, etc.), review these assets and create a plan to preserve them. There are special rules that must be followed when the assets belong to the child and it is very important that you work with counsel that can assist you in coordinating the best plan for your child. One possible option that may be available is to convert the assets into “exempt” or “non-countable” assets so that your child isn’t disqualified from governmental benefits.
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Providing for your child’s future is imperative, so do it early and carefully. To learn more about estate planning and your options in providing for a special needs child, contact the attorneys at Carnahan, Evans, Cantwell & Brown if you live in or near Springfield, Missouri. Our Estate Planning Group would be happy to help you create an estate plan, whether simple or complex, that fits your unique situation. For more information, please give us a call at 417-447-4400. We look forward to hearing from you!