Our society is made for able-bodied, neurotypical individuals. Looking at everything from our infrastructure to our school systems, being a special individual in today’s climate is a challenging (and even sometimes discouraging) task.
This is why knowing how to advocate for those with disabilities is important for each of us to learn. Not only does this help their short term quality of life, but it allows us to plan out their security for when we are no longer there to render care. Estate planning is an important piece to this puzzle.
National Infrastructure Doesn’t Support Special Individuals
Our nation has systems set in place for special needs individuals. Unfortunately, many families find themselves in a difficult position when these systems don’t offer enough support and they are forced to supplement.
Every individual with disabilities has different needs. Depending on the person, this could look like having an IEP and speech therapy all the way to needing full-time medical care. The more care that’s needed, the less likely it is that the child will receive enough compensation through benefits programs to fully cover the cost of these necessary resources.
While finances are a problem many face, age is yet another. Many of our most impactful resources come with age-related eligibility requirements, making the coverage for individuals dwindle as they age. Similarly, as special needs individuals reach adulthood, they enter a world of financial eligibility restrictions. This makes it almost impossible for them to receive inheritance money, gift money, or hold valuable assets without putting their care in jeopardy.
When working out how to secure the future for a special needs adult, these are all matters to keep in mind. Below I will go over what you most need to know and how we can make the situation a little better using law.
What to Know About “Aging Out”
For most children with disabilities, the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) is a lifeline for receiving the care and support they need throughout childhood. Primarily, this act ensures access to Free and Appropriate Public Education, including access to special needs care, IEPs, and other resources.
As your child grows up there are inevitably going to be IEP meetings where you begin discussing how your child will transition from these services into the adult world. This means that the various special education laws people with disabilities (and their families) relied on, no longer apply. It also signifies the end of the familial support systems and resources offered by schools, such as special education advocates, dedicated IEP teams, mental health professionals, and a knowledgeable staff.
Between 21 and 22, a child “ages out” of this system, leaving them in the world of severely lacking resources for special needs adults. They will often rely on government benefits as much as possible but, for many, there are gaps in coverage that need to be supplemented by the family income.
The more disabled the individual, the more severe this gap. Issues such as being able to afford special therapies, living assistance, and job coaches to promote independence all become worries of the family. They know their child needs the supplemental support but they also know that, in the event of an inheritance, receiving the entire sum of money at once will effectively void government eligibility.
As you see, this leaves most families in a bind.
How Law Helps the Adult Child
Even though the care is integral to special needs individuals, at this point in time most resource programs geared toward adults often have financial eligibility restrictions. For those who are more severely impaired, these benefits don’t even come close to covering the cost of care needed to maintain a healthy and independent life.
When benefits don’t cover the full expenses for a disabled individual, parents will often supplement their care.
The problem occurs when a parent, grandparent, or guardian passes away. These individuals often want to ensure their family member is still financially supported but they don’t know how to leave them financial resources without disqualifying them from their existing benefits.
As such, knowing how to supplement your child’s income or benefits without making them ineligible is a primary concern.
To begin, it is integral to keep assets out of the name of your child. If you do not, they will be counted against them when assessing eligibility requirements. Secondly, you want to make sure there is a trusted individual who will help manage the assets in such a way as to always take care of your child.
Enter the special needs trust, also known as a third party trust.
Using this tool, you can ensure that your child has financial support without risking eligibility. This is done by making the child a beneficiary of the trust and appointing a trustee to handle disbursements. This keeps all assets out of your child’s name and ensures the funds will be used for their continuing care.
An Attorney Who Understands Special Needs
I have helped many individuals over the years in creating trusts that address the needs of disabled family members. Once we meet, many people are surprised to find that the process is much easier than they imagined, especially when the estate planning process is explained in simple terms everyone can understand.
This is something I am passionate about continuing to provide to the special needs community as it allows me to use law in a way that creates a positive impact. If you have any questions or want to begin the process or make an estate plan that is right for your loved one, feel free to call or, preferably, email me at [email protected].