Unfortunately, many parents of children with special needs wait until their child turns 18 to consider creating a Special Needs Trust. Sometimes, they even wait until their child eventually needs government benefits like SSI or Medicaid. However, Special Needs Trusts do a lot more than just protect the beneficiary’s access to government benefits and should be created as soon as possible. Below are a few reasons why.
A Special Needs Trust secures the child’s future
The best reason for creating a Special Needs Trust with a Marietta Special Needs Lawyer before your child turns 18 is the same reason that parents of children without special needs should have an estate plan – to ensure the stability and security of their family members if something unexpected happens to them. Creating a Special Needs Trust before a child needs it ensures that the Trust will be there during all of life’s transitions. If a parent of a child with disabilities dies unexpectedly and a Special Needs Trust is not established, the direct inheritance could make them ineligible for any government assistance. The Trust would also allow someone else, called a Successor Trustee, to immediately step in and start helping your child financially without having to wait for the courts to get involved.
They can receive gifts from parents or grandparents
Parents may decide to establish a Special Needs Trust for their minor child so that the grandparents and other relatives can fund it with gifts. Also, older relatives who are planning on leaving an inheritance for the child with special needs can bequest the funds directly to the Trust. Having a Special Needs Trust guarantees that if the child needs government benefits in the future, he or she will not have large amounts of money in their name that could negatively impact eligibility.
Life insurance benefits can be protected
One way that parents sometimes ensure that their child will have money for future care is to purchase a life insurance policy where the payout goes into the child’s Special Needs Trust. The earlier the parents start funding the life insurance policy, the bigger the financial benefit for their child with special needs. This funding can start well before a child turns 18, so it makes sense to create a Special Needs Trust to hold the proceeds even if the child is not yet receiving government benefits.
You can create a care management plan
Special Needs Trusts can provide a care management plan as well as a structure for family involvement in the daily life of the person with special needs. In addition, professional special needs trustees can serve as resources for families that are looking for additional care options for their child.
Creating your child’s Special Needs Trust and keeping it updated can be a very effective planning strategy for reasons that go way beyond preserving government benefits. Even if the Trust is unfunded during the parent’s lives, having it can create a solid, stable foundation for the child if it is needed. If you have not yet created a Special Needs Trust for your child, call our Marietta Special Needs Lawyers office at 770-425-6060 to set up a consultation today.
When a family has a child with special needs, the care of that child eventually falls on the shoulders of the entire family. The parents generally care for the child for as long as they are able. However, when the parents begin to age and are unable to care for their adult children with special needs, the siblings are often called upon to take over care of their special needs sibling. This brings extra responsibility and stress financially, emotionally, and can impact the schedule of the caregiving sibling. Siblings who are charged with the responsibility of a special needs adult must begin planning for how they are going to manage this situation before they must take over the responsibility.
1. Ease Your Way into Caregiving
The first tip for caring for an adult sibling with special needs is to ease your way into the role of caregiver. If the eventual care of a sibling with special needs is in the future, find tasks you can begin doing to care for them. Maybe begin by taking them for an appointment or for some other outing. Another great opportunity is to care for them during times when parents might be out of town or in order to just give parents a weekend break. This can be beneficial for all family members involved. It can give tired and aging parents a bit of rest while also giving the special needs sibling the opportunity to become more familiar with living in a different place. It gives the sibling caregiver a good chance to get to experience the needs of their sibling in a time frame that is more controlled.
2. Explore Legal Needs
Chances are the parents of the adult special needs child have put into place many resources to help care for their special needs child once they are unable to do so. But if a sibling is to be the future caregiver, they need to be involved in this planning and understand their role and legal rights and responsibilities. One legal issue that needs to be addressed is guardianship. The family needs to decide when the caregiving sibling should assume the role of guardian and take care of all legal paperwork necessary, so that this is in place when needed. An elder law attorney can be of assistance in helping to be sure all the proper paperwork is complete. If there is a special needs trust in place, the attorney can also help the family to make all the arrangements for the management of the trust. If a trust needs to be created, the attorney can also assist. Legal matters such as guardianship and the management of trusts can often take time, so it is important to have these conversations early and make decisions, in advance, as a family.
3. Have a Financial Plan
Often parents plan for the long-term care of adult children with special needs. However, there are families that have no plans in place. If a sibling knows that they will eventually be the primary caregiver for their sibling, they should begin becoming familiar with the benefits received by their siblings with special needs and benefits available to family members who serve as caregivers. It is very important that parents and future sibling caregivers sit down and discuss wills, trusts, and insurance, so that the caregiver also understands what financial support will be left for the care of the sibling with special needs. Outlining the cost of caring for the special needs sibling can also be a helpful step in planning to care for the sibling. Once a sibling caregiver understands the financial support and costs of taking care of the sibling with special needs, then they can begin planning ahead and creating a budget that works.
Planning ahead and knowing the legal and financial needs of caring for a sibling with special needs can help make a difficult transition run more smoothly. These changes are hard for all family members involved. Support is available, because even the most prepared will need help at one turn or another.
If you have any questions about something you have read or would like additional information from our Marietta special needs planning lawyer, please call us at 770-425-6060.
The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which was created by Congress in 2014, allows people with disabilities and their families to save up to $100,000 in accounts for the benefit of a disabled person. The funds can be saved without jeopardizing the individual’s eligibility for Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and other government benefits. ABLE accounts may be opened by anyone with a disability as long as the disability began before the person turned 26.
Starting in 2018, the amount of money that can be deposited in an ABLE account per year without jeopardizing public benefits will rise from $14,000 to $15,000. The amount that can be deposited in an ABLE account is tied to the federal gift tax exclusion, which has also risen to $15,000.
Other changes to the program in 2018 include the following:
- Traditional 529 plans can now be rolled into ABLE accounts. This helps parents utilize funds that were accumulated in traditional college savings plans before learning their child had a disability.
- Individuals with disabilities who are working may be able to save up to the federal poverty level. Rather than savings being capped at $15,000 per year, in some cases the new law will allow people with disabilities to save their earnings beyond that threshold up to the federal poverty level to potentially accumulate as much as $27,060 per year in savings.
- A note of caution: there are no real “safeguards” built into the legislation to help people monitor contributions that go over $15,000. There have been delays implementing this new part of the law, as financial professionals fear that mistakes are easy to make, and benefits could inadvertently be jeopardized.
Setting up an ABLE account is often a solid way to save money toward future expenses for an individual with disabilities. As with most federal or state programs, there are intricacies in the rules that should be understood prior to establishing an account. I encourage you to seek the assistance of a qualified special needs attorney to ensure that you understand the process before tying up your funds.
If you would like to speak to a Marietta special needs lawyer about the creation of an ABLE Account or creating an ABLE account in conjunction with a Special Needs Trust for your disabled loved one, please contact our Marietta special needs attorneys at 770-425-6060 to schedule a consultation.
When a Marietta special needs lawyer is creating a special needs plan for a loved one with disabilities, it’s the hope that all family members are in agreement and ideally on the same page. But, even if everyone is working together, there can be issues when the parents are divorced. Often, there are separate estates, separate finances, and other factors to consider for both parents when creating trusts and other care plans for children with special needs. By facing the following challenges now, divorced parents have the best chance of creating solid plans for the future:
Understand that you two may have distinct financial and familial obligations. Remarriage and new families may make less money available for special needs planning. One parent may rely on the other to financially back any plans without fully understanding whether the other parent can do what is expected. Since divorced parents’ finances are separate, one parent cannot obligate the other to invest in or pay for something. Also, considering that lump sum inheritances can disqualify your child with special needs from receiving SSI and Medicaid, it’s best to make sure neither of you will accidentally undermine the other’s planning due to unintended consequences of your estate.
Work out any differences in opinion or desired outcomes. Parents may not want the same the thing for their adult child with disabilities, even though they both want the best. This can result in fights and disputes, which can turn ugly and contentious if not resolved. Hiring a Marietta lawyer to handle your child’s special needs plan means having a knowledgeable neutral party working in the best interest of your child, no matter what happens between the two of you.
Decide if one parent should take the lead. If a child with disabilities primarily lives with one parent who is more involved in the child’s ongoing care, then it may be in the best interest of the child for the more involved parent to take the lead and do the lion’s share of the planning. If one parent takes on more responsibility, that parent should strive to keep the other in the loop, while the other pledges support, both emotional and financial.
Make sure all families know what’s going on. Your child may have family members on both sides that don’t communicate with each other or know what’s planned. More importantly, they may have siblings, half-siblings, and step-siblings who may be very concerned about your plans, and especially with any lack of planning. Just because you’ve asked one or all of your children to take over for you when you’re gone, doesn’t mean they can just slip into your place, even if they have the time and means to do so. All parties who would be interested should be kept in the loop to avoid any arguments or fights over your child’s plan when you’re gone.
Special needs planning in Georgia can be just as unique as your own family. Contact our Marietta special needs attorney at 770-425-6060 when you’re ready to start planning. We have the experience and knowledge to work with challenges like divorced and blended families to create the right plan for your child and your family.
By: Steve Worrall, Marietta GA special needs attorney
As a Marietta special needs attorney, I’m often asked, “What exactly is a Special Needs Trust?”
For starters, a special needs trust is a legal entity created to hold assets of a person with a mental or physical disability. The trust names a trustee whose job is to manage the assets and distribute them according to the provisions of the trust. There are specific limitations on the way assets can be distributed so that they do not disqualify the beneficiary from eligibility for government programs.
There are two primary types of special needs trusts. They are:
Self Settled Special Needs Trusts
In a self-settled special needs trust the assets in the trust belong to the beneficiary. For example, if the person becomes disabled due to the negligence of a doctor or car accident, it is possible that the beneficiary received a settlement as a result of litigation. In this case, a self-settled special needs trust would be created for the beneficiary to receive and hold the settlement funds in order to preserve government benefits.
Third Party Special Needs Trusts
A third party special needs trust is created by a third party with assets that belong to the third party. For example, the parents of a child born with Down syndrome or autism might create a special needs trust for their child as a part of their overall estate plan. In the case of a third party special needs trust, family members may make lifetime gifts to the child.
Distributions for Special Needs Trusts
In order to preserve government benefits, it is important to direct the trustee not to pay for services that are provided by a government agency. If done correctly, the assets in the special needs trust will not be counted as a resource. The trust must authorize distributions only for special or supplemental needs. Some examples of this might include dental care, specialized therapy, and services of a caregiver. Improper distributions of a special needs trust can cause a loss of government services, so it is critical that the trust is set up and then managed properly.
Who Should Create a Special Needs Trust?
Not all Georgia estate planning attorneys have the training, expertise or knowledge to create a special needs trust. You should consult with an attorney who is experienced in creating these trusts and who knows how to properly advise trustees.
The documentation that you create with your special needs planning lawyer in Marietta will be quite detailed and will take an incredible amount into consideration, but it will likely not cover every possible concern or wish you may have for your child’s future care. For that purpose, many parents work with their lawyer to create a Letter of Intent.
The Letter of Intent is along the lines of a personal letter, rather than being a more formal legal document. It is used to supplement the special needs plan in order to provide additional information.
Uses for the Letter of Intent
- Parents often use it to address wishes that they have which don’t really fall under the purview of legal requirements.
- This document is also useful for addressing information about your child that is subject to change. While various other special needs planning documents tend to be more static, the Letter of Intent can be changed out as the information in it needs to be updated.
- Finally, a Letter of Intent is used to discuss topics that are just too lengthy to include in the special needs trust.
The letter is typically addressed to the people who will be caring for your child once you are unable to fulfill that role. When the time comes, your attorney will share the Letter of Intent with the child’s caregivers, as well as with the trustee. They can use the letter to help interpret your desires and to help follow through on the wishes you have for your child.
Where to Get the Letter
Your special needs attorney in Marietta can help you draw up your Letter of Intent as a supplemental piece of your special needs trust. You may also wish to download a template for organizing your thoughts. As with any online resource, be sure to have your attorney review the document and offer advice and recommendations. At Georgia Estate Plan: Worrall Law LLC, we’re happy to help. Call us at 770-425-6060 and let’s schedule a Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session at no charge to those readers of this blog post.