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Eight Important Considerations When Estate Planning for Special Needs (Part I)

Special needs kids 2There are unique planning requirements of families with children, grandchildren or other family members (such as parents) with special needs. There are also numerous misconceptions in this area that can result in costly mistakes when planning for special needs beneficiaries.

This is the 1st installment of two blogs; today and tomorrow, on this important topic.  I hope you find it helpful.

Consideration #1: Avoid disinheriting the special needs beneficiary.  Many disabled persons receive Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), Medicaid or other government benefits to provide 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 those beneficiaries' 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.  It is unnecessary and in fact poor planning to disinherit special needs beneficiaries. Loved ones with special needs beneficiaries should consider a special needs trust to protect public benefits and care for those beneficiaries during their own incapacity or after their death. 

Consideration #2: Procrastinating can be costly for a special needs beneficiary.  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.  Parents, grandparents, or any other loved ones of a special needs beneficiary face unique planning challenges when it comes to that child. This is one area where families simply cannot afford to wait to plan. 

Consideration #3: Don’t ignore the special needs of the 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 can also receive spending money, electronic equipment & appliances, computers, vacations, movies, payments for a companion, and other self-esteem and quality-of-life enhancing expenses: the sorts of things families now provide to their child or other special needs beneficiary. When planning for a beneficiary with special needs, it is critical that families utilize a properly drafted special needs trust as the vehicle to pass assets to that beneficiary. Otherwise, those assets may disqualify the beneficiary from public benefits and may be available to repay the state for the assistance provided. 

Consideration #4: A special needs trust does not have to be inflexible.  Some special needs trusts are unnecessarily inflexible and generic. Although an attorney with some knowledge of the area can protect almost any trust from invalidating the beneficiary's public benefits, many trusts are not customized to the particular beneficiary's needs. Thus the beneficiary fails to receive the benefits that the parents or others provided when they were alive.

Another frequent mistake occurs when the special needs trust includes a pay-back provision rather than allowing the remainder of the trust to go to others upon the death of the special needs beneficiary. While these pay-back provisions are necessary in certain types of special needs trusts, an attorney who knows the difference can save family members and loved ones hundreds of thousands of dollars, or more   A special needs trust should be customized to meet the unique circumstances of the special needs beneficiary and should be drafted by a lawyer familiar with this area of the law.

You can learn more about this topic as well as other strategies on our website under the tab entitled: special needs planning in Virginia. Be sure you also sign up for our complimentary e-newsletter so that you may be informed of all the latest issues that could affect you, your loved ones and your estate planning.  However, proper estate planning is not a do-it-yourself project.  Why not call us for a complimentary consultation at 757-259-0707.

Tomorrow's blog offers the next important considerations for Special Needs Families.

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