At age 16, your son or daughter is probably established in an appropriate school setting, and you have worked to help develop appropriate social connections. Now is the time to think ahead to the day your young adult turns 22, when the bus no longer arrives to take him or her to school. What do you want that day and the days after that to look like? What does your young adult child need to succeed? This is the stage where you should be focusing on the future and what you want that future to be.
Just as every child is unique, the way each parent approaches their planning is unique. Below are a few basic planning points that are unique in planning for your child from age 16 to age 21. (These steps are in addition to the comprehensive Planning Points outlined in our book, The Special Needs Planning Guide: How to Prepare for Every Stage of Your Child's Life.)
~ Your child's abilities may be more defined by this stage, and you may be able to have a glimpse of his or her future abilities as well.
~ Now is the time to explore options and alternatives for when your child reaches the age of 21 or 22 (the age at which your state no longer provides public education services). This is called transition planning, and focuses on residential and vocational opportunities for your child when he or she reaches adulthood.
~ Get involved in any person-centered planning programs that may be available to your family.
~ Obtain eligibility information for any and all government agencies in your state that may potentially provide funding and services for your child after turning age 22.
~ Interview and ultimately identify the most appropriate agency to provide residential and/or vocational services based on your child's abilities. Vocational services may also include a day program for your child to attend, again depending upon his or her abilities.
~ If you feel that your child will not be able to make decisions on his or her own behalf upon reaching age 18, you should consider the possibility of filing for guardianship (see our previous newsletter on guardianship and less restrictive alternatives).
~ Prepare your child to financially qualify for SSI and/or Medicaid benefits. This means that assets in his or her name, including custodial accounts, should be less than $2000 (or the current asset limits).
~ In the event that your child's assets are in excess of the limit and he or she would not financially qualify for SSI and/or Medicaid, you should contact a CFP® and an attorney knowledgeable in government benefits eligibility, to discuss options of spending down the assets or transferring them to a special needs trust (OBRA'93 Payback Trust or d4(A) Trust) prior to applying for benefits.
~ Assess your overall financial situation to help determine your ability to achieve your financial goals, including college funding for other children, financial requirements to fund the supplemental needs of your child with disabilities, and your own retirement goals.
~ Review your estate planning documents to be mindful of estate tax planning considerations, ownership and beneficiary designations of assets, retirement plans, and life insurance policies.
~ Talk to your other children about your plans and your vision for your child with special needs; they may have input to share as well.
~ Communicate with extended family members, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other friends and relatives, who may be interested in transferring wealth to you and your child. Tell them that you are in the process of planning for your child's future security.
This is the ideal stage to begin planning for the future for your child. You still have time to make changes and to explore options if you have not done so already. This would be the ideal time to hire an independent consultant, if you have not already done so.