When considering how best to plan for someone with special needs and/or disabilities, it might be helpful to approach this task as a life care plan. A life care plan is an ever-evolving assessment of financial security and supportive services, so that the person with special needs is able to live a life of meaning and dignity, as much as is possible.
A life care plan can include many aspects, including the following:
- Identify government and community benefits that the individual may be eligible for, along with what financial requirements need to be monitored and maintained;
- Assess what support the individual will need to maintain their lifestyle in the community and what costs are involved;
- Formulate a financial plan for supplementing government benefits, perhaps including a form of Special Needs Trust, so that means-tested government benefits can be maintained, too;
- If the disabled individual is able to execute their own estate planning documents, such as a financial power of attorney, advance medical directive and last will and testament, work with them to do so. Allow them to participate and be a part of the life plan decision-making process, as much as they possibly can.
- If capacity is an issue and the individual is unable to make important decisions on their own, explore a guardianship through the court system. In this process, the courts will seek to use the least restrictive alternative.
- A letter of intent is a helpful tool that can provide insight on the likes, dislikes and needs of the disabled person, especially to those beyond the parents or other family members. This is a living document that will change throughout the life cycle of the disabled person.
Part of this process is to understand that once a disabled child reaches the age of maturity at the age of 18 (or 19 or 21 depending on the jurisdiction). Once the disabled child becomes an adult, if they continue to need assistance in making financial or medical decisions, you may find your parental authority restricted without the proper legal documents or a guardianship in place. Thus, it is ideal to get these important items lined up before the transition occurs, if at all possible. Sometimes the courts or other forms are delayed and it can quickly become a very frustrating process for all involved, especially the disabled individual.
A big part of the life cycle process is identifying other resources and trusted advisors that can help you through each aspect. Parents aren’t assumed to be financial gurus or legal experts, so they should build relationships with a financial advisor, an accountant/CPA, an attorney, and other professionals with a focus in special needs planning, that can help ease the burden. Bringing these resources into the plan early, rather than later, can help build rapport and identify opportunities throughout the life cycle. These professionals may also be useful back-up trustees or advocates for the disabled child when the parents pass away or become unable to care for them.
A letter of intent is a document that provides a summary of the important personal details related to the disabled individual, for the benefit of the future professional guardians, trustees and other advocates. It’s a method of synthesizing the unique knowledge and understanding of the parents into an evolving and easily updated form. There is no required format to these, but often they include the medical history (including allergies or other major medical concerns of note), the likes and dislikes and preferences of the individual, religious beliefs and their goals, hobbies and interests for the past, present and future, along with any other lifestyle aspects. The goal is to provide the insight from a parent’s perspective to the next trusted person, all in an easy and transferrable way. It can also be a helpful way to capture the major events of a child’s life for the benefit of the parents and other family members. Our ePlan365 platform also offers a secure way to provide a letter of intent electronically to those you deem appropriate. 1
Estate planning with special needs aspects should be done with the careful guidance of an experienced special needs planning attorney. To schedule a private consultation or to review your possible planning options, contact the Maryland special needs planning attorneys at Frame & Frame today. We have been serving the legal needs of our community for over 65 years.