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For parents who have a special needs child, it is so important to have an appropriate and well thought out estate plan in place. Parents may worry about planning for their child’s future and want to ensure that their child is cared for throughout the rest of his or her life, even when the parent has passed. Having an estate plan in place will give parents peace of mind about their child’s future. If a child receives government benefits such as Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), inheriting money directly can cause problems with maintaining eligibility. Families have some options with their estate plan, protecting their child’s eligibility to receive government benefits.

Government benefits generally provide only basic support and parents may want to provide their child with some extra support. In order to provide their child with extra support while keeping their child eligible for government benefits, some parents may want to establish a special needs or supplemental needs trust for the benefit of their child, which can be funded during the parent’s lifetime or at their death. If properly drafted, this type of trust will not jeopardize eligibility for government benefits and can provide the child with an enhanced quality of life by having the trustee pay for extra things. Parents may also want to consider joining a pooled special needs trust, where the funds of each beneficiary of the trust are placed in an individual account and the assets from all of the individual accounts are “pooled” together and invested and managed by a trust company. A pooled trust is managed by a non-profit organization and with this type of arrangement, families do not have to find a trustee who is willing and capable to manage the trust for their child, unlike the special needs or supplemental needs trust.

Parents should discuss the future with family members and friends and have a plan in place for their child’s future care, when mom, dad, a sibling or other family member is no longer available or able to care for the special needs child. Parents also need to take care of their own future, and have a Will, power of attorney, and advance medical directive for themselves. Planning for the future may seem overwhelming, but having a good plan in place can provide peace of mind.

Written by Heather W. Winter, Esquire

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