A Special Need Planning Timeline: 9 Steps to a Sound Family Plan
Planning for the future well-being of your children is a daunting task for any parent. Add the complexity of adequately providing for the future care of a son or daughter with special needs and the process becomes exponentially more challenging.
Any special needs plan requires thoughtful dedication by the parents and often involves the utilization of multiple resources and professionals. The question for most parents is where to even start? The answer, of course, varies based on the child’s diagnosis, age, family situation and numerous other factors. There is, however, a core guide that I believe can be provided to any parent of a child with special needs to help work through the process (a process, I might stress, that is accomplished over time).
The keys to a sound special needs plan are complicated and vary according to each situation. The list below is not meant to be a comprehensive checklist, but instead a series of nine core issues that I believe every parent must address. The actual creation of a special needs plan will take time, focus and creativity. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Include your child’s educators, family, friends and professionals that can offer support and guidance through the process.
Step 1 – Understand the Process is Different
The initial step should be a full understanding that traditional planning advice will not work for your family. You should not engage the corner financial advisor, a general estate planning attorney or simply enlist the help of your friend’s advisors. There are professionals in the area of special needs planning and your child deserves you take every necessary step to make sure it is done right. An effectively designed special needs plan is created on the foundation of a clear understanding that the process is a complex, yet critical process. Without the appropriate plan in place, a family leaves too much of their child’s future care to chance.
Step 2 – Decide on Future Guardians
If you are no longer able to care for your children who will? That should be a question that every parent fully analyzes and answers. It does now, however, stop with simply deciding who you would trust to raise your children if you are no longer able. Once you make the election, you should do your part by fully educating the future guardians as to what they are signing on for. Make it an open and honest conversation that provides the future guardians an opportunity to really think through the responsibility. Assuming that they will accept the honor, you then need to make sure that your legal work reflects the decision.
Step 3 – Understand Social Security and Other Available Supports
By recommending that you understand Social Security, Medicaid and other vital supports that your child may rely on, I am not suggesting that you can or should become an expert. The code relating to the support of an individual with special needs could consume you for years without you fully grasping the programs. You can, however, develop an understanding of what the core benefits are, how your child may qualify for them, and just as importantly, how they can maintain these benefits. We are generally speaking about post age-18 supports, but these benefits can take various forms and even begin prior to age 18 in some instances.
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