A Better Plan for Your Child or Grandchild with Special Needs

You love all your children or grandchildren equally and want to treat them that way, but leaving money for your child or grandchild with special needs in the same way as for your other children or grandchildren can be a recipe for disaster. You want to treat them fairly, but doing so in the most generic way can actually cause unintended consequences that could hurt rather than help them. In honor of World Autism Day today, please consider the following and see how it might apply to your family situation.
How extensive are your child or grandchild’s special needs?  Can he or she reasonably be expected to managed his or her own financial affairs someday?  Is he or she currently or likely to be receiving any forms of financial assistance at some point in the future to help provide for his or her medical and/or mental health care, education, or basic living expenses?  Receiving an inheritance or sudden influx of cash over which he or she has control can disqualify him or her from receiving such financial assistance.  Depending on the extent of extra expenses related to the child’s health, education, or living expenses, a family’s resources, an inheritance, or court judgment award in his or her favor can be depleted fairly quickly.
Even if your family is fortunate enough to have sufficient assets such that you think government benefits would never be necessary, there are still other reasons why leaving assets directly to your child or grandchild with special needs is less than desirable. For example, if your child or grandchild were ever sued as the result of an accident in which he or she were involved, any of his or her assets could be within easy reach and subject to a court judgment award against him or her. 
There are other, better ways to treat your children and grandchildren lovingly, fairly without causing such unintended consequences.  The best way to provide for a loved one with special needs is through a special needs trust, also called a supplemental needs trust.  A supplemental needs trust can provide for the supplemental needs, those over and above the very bare bones basics that basic financial assistance will provide for after a family’s own resources are depleted or, ideally, before the rest of the family has had to suffer financially to provide for the basics for the child or grandchild with special needs.  The purpose of a supplemental needs trust is ultimately to enrich the life of the beneficiary by providing for quality of life enhancements not just basic necessities. 
Another really important consideration, and area where the professional guidance of an attorney and counselor at law who understands this complex and ever-changing area of the law can help provide invaluable guidance, is who will serve in the distinct roles of trustee, care manager, and legal guardian for your child or grandchild with special needs.  A kneejerk first choice to succeed you may be one of the childs siblings, but consider the strain that may place on the relationship and whether the sibling wants to or would practically be able to accept that responsibility.  There may be a better choice to respect and provide for each siblings needs without causing other unintended consequences.  Your estate planning lawyer should also help you draft a letter of intent to provide your invaluable insight and guidance on how to best care and provide for your child with special needs.
I know personally from close family experiences that as the parent of a child with special needs, your daily lived experience of caring for your child may feel like it requires more time, more energy, more patience, more persistence, more money, more everything.  It can feel like one thing too many to begin the process of this planning now.  However, you will experience a huge mental and emotional burden lifted once you take the time to create the right kind of estate plan to specify who will help manage and care for your child’s assets and provide for his or her better quality of life for the long run should anything happen to you in the short run and when the time comes that you are no longer able to do so for your child. 
If you are the parent of a child or grandchild with special needs living here in Massachusetts, please contact my office today at (781-740-0848 x.2) or email (astrid@dgvelaw.com) to start to learn more about your options and choices. We promise to be respectful of your time, your energy, your patience, and your resources as we help you provide for your loved one in the best possible way with the least amount of additional stress possible. 

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About Danielle G. Van Ess

Danielle G. Van Ess is a Massachusetts (born and raised), experienced estate planning and small business attorney who helps her clients protect and preserve what matters most to them. To learn more, please visit: dgvelaw.com or call: 781-740-0848