Planning for the future through the creation of a comprehensive estate plan is important for every adult. As the parent of a child with special needs, however, planning for the future takes on an even greater importance. Like all parents, you want to support your child, both financially and emotionally, throughout your lifetime and even after you are gone, to the extent possible. To do that, you will need to pass assets down to your child when you are gone. Doing so, however, takes careful planning when your child has special needs because simply gifting assets directly to your child could interfere with your child’s continued eligibility for state and federal assistance programs. Incorporating a Special Need Planning component into your overall estate plan is the key to ensuring that your child will benefit from your assets without losing eligibility for government assistance. At McGee Law Firm, we understand what is at stake, and our Special Needs Planning attorney is dedicated to helping you protect your child’s future.
Why Special Needs Planning Is Important
Thanks to advances in science and medicine along with positive changes in the way society views individuals with special needs, children with special needs can now look forward to living a much more independent life as an adult. Nonetheless, your child may continue to depend on financial assistance as well as specialized medical and/or therapeutic care as an adult. If you have the resources to continue contributing to your child’s care as an adult, you undoubtedly wish to do so. Care must be taken, however, in the manner in which you accomplish this goal to ensure that your child’s eligibility for assistance programs such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is not threatened. Special Needs Planning uses estate planning tools and strategies to help you achieve your goal of continued financial support without jeopardizing your child’s access to government assistance.
The Problem with Direct Gifting
In the eyes of the law, your child will be an adult when he/she reaches the age of majority, despite your child’s functional level or any limits on your child’s mental or physical abilities. At that time, your child will have to qualify for state and federal assistance programs that may provide things such as healthcare coverage, income, and housing. Eligibility for the benefits provided by those programs will be determined, in part, by your child’s income and resources (assets). Direct gifts made to your child while you are alive or at the time of your death will likely cause the value of your child’s resources to exceed program limits, thereby causing your child to lose eligibility.
A Special Needs Trust May Be the Solution
The good news is that a Special Needs Trust can help. A Special Needs Trust, also referred to as a Supplemental Needs Trust, is a specialized trust that allows you to designate assets to be used for the care and maintenance of an individual with special needs without the risk of losing eligibility for state and federal assistance programs. Assets held in the trust may only be used to provide “supplemental” care over and above that which is provided by programs such as Medicaid and SSI. For example, assets might be used to purchase a vehicle for your child, take a vacation, or to buy furniture for his/her apartment. In addition, other family members may also contribute to the trust while they are alive or through gifts in their own estate plan.
To ensure that a trust is recognized as a Special Needs Trust the trust agreement must include very specific language. Working closely with an experienced Special Needs Planning attorney is the best way to ensure that your child enjoys the best possible quality of life, both while you are alive and long after you are gone.