This is the first of two blogs (today and tomorrow) on an important topic. I hope you find it helpful:
Tip #1: Special needs beneficiaries require special planning. As a society, we have come a long way since 1987 regarding stereotyping people with special needs and these individuals’ planning requirements, but there remain numerous misconceptions that often result in costly mistakes when planning for special needs beneficiaries. These misperceptions may become even more costly in the future as fiscal pressures cause state and federal governments to cut back funding for people with disabilities. Thus, it is critically important that loved ones proactively and properly plan for these individuals.
The fiscal pressures of the federal and state governments make proactive planning for special needs beneficiaries increasingly more important. It is important not to make the mistakes below that could cause special needs beneficiaries to rely exclusively on shrinking government funds, or that place them in unduly restrictive or ineffective structures.
Tip #2: Don’t disinherit the special needs beneficiary. Many disabled persons receive Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), Medicaid or other government benefits that provide basic food, shelter and/or medical care. The loved ones of the special needs beneficiaries may have been advised to disinherit them – beneficiaries who need their help most – to protect the public benefits. But these benefits rarely provide more than basic needs. And this solution (which normally involves leaving the inheritance to another sibling) does not allow loved ones to help their special needs beneficiaries after they themselves become incapacitated or die. The best solution is for loved ones to create a special needs trust to hold the inheritance of a special needs beneficiary. A properly drafted special needs trust will protect public benefits a disabled beneficiary may be receiving, and it will provide for proper care of that individual throughout their lifetime.
Tip #3: Don’t rely on siblings to use their money for the benefit of a special needs beneficiary. Many family members rely on their other children to provide, from their own inheritances, for a child with special needs. This can be a very temporary solution, such as during a brief incapacity, if the other children are financially secure and have money to spare. However, it is not a solution that will protect a child with special needs after the death of the parents or when siblings have their own expenses and financial priorities.
For example, what if an inheriting sibling divorces or loses a lawsuit? His or her spouse (or a judgment creditor) may be entitled to half of it and will likely not care for the child with special needs. What if the sibling dies or becomes incapacitated while the child with special needs is still living? Will his or her heirs care for the child with special needs as thoughtfully and completely as the sibling did?
Siblings of a child with special needs often feel a great responsibility for that child and have felt so all of their lives. When parents provide clear instructions and a helpful structure, they lessen the burden on all their children and support a loving and involved relationship among them.
Tip #4: Procrastination can be especially costly for special needs beneficiaries. None of us know when we may die or become incapacitated. It is important for loved ones with a special needs beneficiary to plan early, just as they should for other dependents such as minor children. However, unlike most other beneficiaries, special needs beneficiaries may never be able to compensate for a failure to plan. Minor beneficiaries without special needs can obtain more resources as they reach adulthood and can work to meet essential needs, but special needs beneficiaries may never have that ability.
Tip #5: Don’t ignore a special needs beneficiary when planning. Planning that is not designed with the beneficiary's special needs in mind will probably render the beneficiary ineligible for essential government benefits. A properly designed special needs trust promotes the comfort and happiness of the special needs beneficiary without sacrificing eligibility.
Special needs can include medical and dental expenses, annual independent check-ups, necessary or desirable equipment (for example, a specially equipped van), training and education, insurance, transportation and essential dietary needs. If the trust is sufficiently funded, the disabled person also can receive funds to be used for quality-of-life-enhancing expenses: the types of benefits families currently provide to their child or other special needs beneficiary. However, the rules often change on the types of expenses that can be paid for by a special needs trust. Therefore it is important to continually seek advice when drafting or administering a special needs trust.
Part II will be tomorrow's blog.