Parents who have children with special needs spend a lot of time thinking about the future. They may wonder, “Who will care for my child when I’m gone someday” or “How will we afford a lifetime of care?” The answers to these questions can feel so overwhelming that parents may feel stuck when it ultimately comes to creating a legal plan.
Parents may also have prior assumptions about special needs planning that can cause them to veer off track. Our Prince William County special needs lawyers call them “Special Needs Planning Myths,” and making decisions based on these myths can be just as dangerous as indecision or procrastination. Here are three that we commonly hear in our office:
- “I already have a will” is one of the most common responses parents have when they are encouraged to meet with a special needs lawyer. The problem is that a will only comes into play after the parent dies. This document does nothing to ensure someone can oversee the disabled individual’s care if the parent is incapacitated or gets sick, nor does it help to deal with any medical or financial needs that the child may have during his or her lifetime. Likewise, any assets left in a will to a child with special needs will go to him or her outright, which can cause essential benefits like Medicaid and SSI to stop immediately.
- “My other kids will look after my child with disabilities” is something we often hear from parents when creating a special needs plan. The parent may even choose to leave their child with disabilities completely out of their will to protect benefits, with the understanding that the other siblings will share the inheritance with their brother or sister behind the scenes. While we all hope that loving siblings would take care of a brother or sister with special needs, so many things can go wrong that puts the vulnerable child’s assets at risk. For example, one of the other siblings might get a divorce, get sued, or wind up in debt, and the individual with special needs’ money will be on the line. What if the sibling accidentally spends the money? Or what if the sibling passes away before the child with special needs? These scenarios are just too risky when it comes to planning for a child who will be completely dependent on others for a lifetime of care.
- “I don’t have enough assets” is another common objection to creating a special needs plan. However, special needs planning is about more than money. Part of planning also deals with the process of gaining legal guardianship, or the right to make medical or financial decisions for the individuals with disabilities once he or she turns 18. These rights are not automatically granted to a parent, and there is a specific court process the family will need to go through for the right to stay in control. On the financial side, planning now allows others with resources to safely contribute to the child’s future well-being. For example, people can give donations (perhaps from a GoFundMe campaign or community benefit event) directly to a Special Needs Trust. There are also other inexpensive ways to fund a child’s special needs plan, such as taking out a life insurance policy that will transfer to the Special Needs Trust once the parent passes away. Again, the younger the parent is when he or she sets up such a policy, the lower the premiums will be.
If you’d like more information about setting up a special needs plan in a way that meets all of your child’s unique needs without falling into the trappings of some of the myths we mention above, please call our Prince William County special needs lawyers at 703-492-9955 to set up a consultation.