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New Year’s Resolution #1: Plan Now for the Future of My Special Needs Child

Whatever the age of your special needs child, from infant to adult, it’s critical not to put off planning for the future care and supervision of your loved one. Many children with disabilities will survive their parents and siblings. General Estate Planning is important for everyone, and if you are the parent or guardian of a child with a disability, a Special Needs Trust (SNT) must form an essential part of your planning.

Here are some FAQs About SNTs:

What is a Special Needs Trust?
The SNT allows family and friends to leave assets to provide for the person with a disability. When properly drafted, the assets funding the trust are not considered to belong to the person, but are intended to provide for supplemental needs. Be aware that there are different types of Special Needs Trusts. (see Don’t Drop the Ball on Establishing a Special Needs Trust post.)

Why is the SNT important?
The person with special needs cannot have more than $2,000 of assets in their name to qualify for certain government benefits. The Special Needs Trust provides protection and management of additional assets and avoids termination or reimbursement of government benefits during the person’s lifetime.

Can’t I simply leave assets to a trusted family member who will provide for my child?
Legally, assets left to another person belong to them. So even if the chosen caretaker has the best intentions, the assets could be lost as a result of lawsuits, creditors, divorce, and their death.

Can a special needs trust have more than one trustee at a time?
Yes, but know that a co-trustee can be held responsible for another co-trustee’s breach of fiduciary duty. It is important that all co-trustees pay close attention to everything that is done in the administration of the trust.

Can I leave specific instructions regarding my child’s care?
Yes. One of your planning documents can be a “Letter of Intent,” used to provide information for future care providers such as daily needs and activities, diet, abilities and skills, medical care, and your desires for the quality of life for your person with a disability.

Who will I choose to serve as a Guardian/Conservator and/or Trustee?
A trustee must be chosen carefully. Consider his or her age in relation to the person with special needs. It should be someone who has full knowledge of your child’s situation and disability and is willing to handle the decisions related to managing the trust.

What other planning areas do I need to address?
Among the important arrangements are Wills, Special Needs Trusts, Guardianship, and Trustees. Benefits include Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance, and pensions. Financial includes a budget and the funds you choose to support it. Lifestyle addresses the day-to-day care of the person.

Who can generally do the planning work?
Seek out legal professionals who have extensive experience in this field. Work with someone who specializes in estate and future needs planning for persons with a disability.

The past few years of uncertainty have demonstrated that the future is never certain, or guaranteed. We at Sussan, Greenwald & Wesler appreciate the anxiety of parents worried about the quality of life of their special needs child when they are no longer there. We’re sure you have many more questions about Special Needs Trusts relating to your individual circumstances. As we go into 2022, we are here to help you set up the most efficient Special Needs Trust and other estate planning documents for you and your child.