This is a great time of year to reflect upon what has happened in 2012 and enable you to set goals for 2013. Here are also a few additional planning strategies to consider.
1. Update your Letter of Intent (LOI)
This is a great gift idea too, not only for your child, but for yourself. Many of our client's give an updated copy of their child's LOI at the holidays to each of his/her future caretakers, guardians, and trustees. Keep your LOI up to date and you will have the peace of mind knowing that if anything should happen to you, then you have left a legacy of information and the vision you have for your child's lifetime. The LOI is the one central place to put all of your child's important information and important people and agencies in his/her life. You can also tell others about daily routines, habits, hygiene, hobbies, preferences of your child, and so much more. Click here to download a sample LOI.
2. Gifts from Grandparents
Please remember to say thank you first! This is the time of year that gifts of money can be in excess of the $2,000 limits. The annual gift tax exclusion amount is $13,000 for 2012. Unfortunately if given to your child or to an account in his/her name, this gift can jeopardize your child's eligibility for government benefits. Gift giving, if done properly, can be beneficial for everyone. Please contact us if you would like to discuss options for your own financial and estate planning.
3. Gifts to Charities
Don't forget to support the agencies that support your family members. This time of year, most charitable non-profit organizations and agencies are asking for your financial support. They do so to be able to continue to provide the services and supports to your family member. Most donations to these agencies are tax deductible to you. Don't forget to consider any matching gifts from your employer(s). This is our chance to give back and say thank you. If you would like to discuss options of charitable giving techniques for your own personal financial and estate planning, please contact us.
We wish all our readers a very happy holiday season.
Parents should make a point to complete the Letter of Intent to document the important aspects of your child’s life. Share it with the future caretakers today, including siblings and make it a living document. Don’t just leave it for them after you are gone.
Determining Roles for Siblings to Play
A pragmatic approach is an effective means to define a role for siblings. This approach can utilize assigning defined responsibilities.
Responsibilities may be shared. Tasks and roles may be shared, which will allow a sibling to contribute without feeling overwhelmed that they have to be the ” everything” or “IT” person in the family.
Partner with a professional. Siblings can partner with experienced special needs planning professionals to help them provide the best solutions for their brother or sister.
Some functional roles siblings may play:
Health care proxy, Power of attorney,
Conservator, Trustee, Trust advisor
Investment manager, Tax preparer,
Bookkeeper to help pay bills,
Representative payee for SSI
Just be a brother or sister!
For more information, click below to attend a presentation of No Sibling Left Behind or Planning is a Family Affair
The most important asset your child has isYOU.Think for a moment about the specific instructions or guidelines you give to your child or his or her caregiver when you leave for just an evening out or a weekend away.Imagine if you never came back.
Many families need a catalyst to encourage them to begin the planning process. A Letter of Intent simplifies the planning process by initially asking basic biographic information and progresses to more thoughtful and provoking questions. Since developing the Five Factors of comprehensive special needs planning, we have reorganized the content based upon these key elements in planning for your child’s future. By completing a Letter of Intent for your family member, you will begin to develop goals and objectives to assist you in the overall planning process. Ultimately, it will provide the details required for future caregivers to fulfill their expected roles based upon your desires and concerns.
No matter who you have entrusted to care for your child when you are gone—sibling, friend, relative, trustee, guardian, or organization—you can help guide that person by providing them the knowledge that only you, as a parent, possess. This is not a legally binding document, but it is still perhaps one of the most important documents you can prepare for the future well-being of your child. This is an opportunity to leave a legacy of all that you have accomplished with your child.
You need to periodically review and revise this Letter of Intent, perhaps on your child’s birthday, making certain to provide your child’s future caregiver with an updated copy. As every child is unique, so should this document be unique. Feel free to expand where needed and omit areas that are not applicable. Be flexible, be clear, and feel free to make it as personal as you wish.
To view and download a a blank sample Letter of Intent,click on the image below.
As friends worry out loud about how they'll pay for their kids' college education, the parents of children with special needs have worries that extend beyond the few years it takes to get a college degree:
- How will we pay for the special therapies our child needs now?
- Who will pay our child's expenses once he or she becomes an adult?
- Where will our child live and who will oversee his or her care after we're gone?
These daunting questions and fears stop many parents in their tracks but creating a plan can ease anxiety. Some of the issues you need to confront are financial: How do you set aside money for your child without affecting his or her government benefits? And some are emotional: Who would understand your child's needs if something were to happen to you right now?
Here are 10 steps to planning your child's financial future. Some are simple, some are challenging; some cost nothing and some require paying legal fees. Get started on some of these now, so you'll have peace of mind down the road.
1. Create a Special Needs Trust
A special needs trust is the most important part of your child's long-term financial plan. This is where you can put money that you save, that others give your child as gifts, or that you receive from an insurance settlement without worrying that these funds will interfere with your child's eligibility for federal benefits like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Even if you're unable to pay into a trust right now, set one up anyway. This way, you can make the trust the beneficiary of your life insurance policy and your estate, ensuring that those assets don't get passed to your child when you die. Why wouldn't you want your child to be the beneficiary of your estate? Because showing more than $2,000 in assets could make your child ineligible for federal benefits such as SSI.
2. Write a Will
A will specifies what will be done with your assets after your death. By writing a will, you make sure that your assets are left to the special needs trust and not to your child. Without a will, a probate court judge could name your child as a beneficiary, which could make your child ineligible for federal benefits (see above). The will is also where you can specify a guardian who will take care of your child.
When you have a child with special needs, a will should not be a do-it-yourself endeavor. Hire a lawyer who works specifically for people with special needs and is aware of your state's disability laws. Once the documents are drafted, have your lawyer keep one and then give copies to any executors or guardians named in the will.
Costs for this legal paperwork, including the will, trust, and powers of attorney, start at $1,500 and go higher depending on where you live. Contact the Academy of Special Needs Planners or the Special Needs Alliance for a referral to an attorney in your state.
3. Name a Guardian
A guardian is the person who will care for your child if you were to die before he or she becomes an adult. In choosing this person, consider how much time you now spend tending to your child's needs. Who can handle that type of commitment? Who has bonded with your child? Who has the patience, understanding, and other personality traits necessary to deal with the day-to-day responsibilities of raising your child?
Once you pick someone, ask the person if he or she can and will accept that responsibility (even though you hope it will never be necessary). And talk about how this commitment will likely stretch beyond when your child turns 18.
4. Name a Trustee
A trustee is the person who will be responsible for managing the special needs trust after your death. It can be a family member, a friend, or even a bank or lawyer. The trustee ensures that the money in the trust is spent only on your child with special needs and only on services that you've specified or that are appropriate to your child's needs. The trustee also supervises how the money in the trust is invested. The person who is caring for your son or daughter (the guardian) cannot spend any money in the trust without the trustee's approval.
And a word on trustees and guardians: They often are not the same person, and some financial advisors recommend that they never be the same person. By separating these roles, you ensure a "checks and balances" system for your child's future needs.
5. Build Your Savings
Parents of children with special needs quickly learn that just because a child needs a certain treatment or therapy doesn't mean that your school system will offer it or insurance will cover it. This is where personal savings become so important. Start putting aside whatever you can each month — no amount is too small — to cover these extra expenses. Just make sure you never put this money in your child's name.
Savings also can help pay for a special needs advocate, an expert in special education who can help you navigate the paperwork, programs, and laws that affect what services your child qualifies for. Special needs advocates can save parents money in the long run by using their expertise to ensure that kids get all the services they're entitled to from their local school district.
To find an advocate in your area, contact your local school district, organizations focused on your child's disability, or local colleges with special needs programs for a referral.
6. Write a Letter of Intent
Preparing for your child's financial future is important. But hand-in-hand with that is making sure that your child's everyday needs will be met should anything happen to you. That's where a Letter of Intent comes in. Is your child's daily routine very important? Write it down and be as detailed as possible. The same goes for your child's daily, weekly, and monthly schedules.
Create a list of contact information for your child's physicians, therapists, and other medical support people as well as current medications and their dosages and schedules. Are there people you don't want around your child or activities to be avoided? Write that down too.
And then once a year, update the letter. This is not a formal legal document, so you can draft it yourself. Keep a copy wherever you have copies of your will. And make sure that your child's appointed guardian has a copy too.
7. Plan for Your Child's Independence
When your child is about 16, start thinking about where he or she will live as an adult. In most states, people with special needs are 21 or 22 years old when they become ineligible for education services through the local public school system.
So start thinking: Will your child remain living with you? If so, will support personnel be needed during the day when he or she used to be at school? Are day programs for adults with special needs available in your area? If independent living is the goal, start investigating options in your community such as shared living, group homes, or apartments. Once you find a place you like, get on the waiting list if there is one.
8. Apply for Guardianship or Power of Attorney
Once children turn 18, they're considered adults in the eyes of the law. This gives your child the right to make medical and financial decisions. If he or she is not capable of this or needs your guidance, consider assuming legal guardianship or the less-restrictive power of attorney and health care proxy for his or her financial, legal, and health care affairs. This way you maintain the same supervision and control you had over these as you did when your daughter or son was younger.
Experts advise parents to hire an attorney to help with this process. This will ensure that you have all the powers you would need to assume control of your adult child's health care in the event of an emergency. If your child cannot or won't consent to you assuming power of attorney, the matter will likely be decided before a probate court judge.
9. Educate Family Members
Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other loved ones might want to help out with expenses. But explain to them the importance of not putting anything in your child's name. Have a family meeting and explain why grandpa can't leave anything to your child in his will or name your child beneficiary on his life insurance policy. The same goes for gifts of savings bonds, stocks, or cash: nothing should ever be in your child's name.
And if your son or daughter will not attend college, there is no need for a 529 savings plan. Those funds can only be used for post-secondary education, not private schools, tutoring, or therapies needed before age 18.
If loved ones want to leave something to your child, they can. But tell them to name the special needs trust as the beneficiary to ensure that your child holds no assets of his or her own.
10. Need Help? Find an Advisor
If all of this is too overwhelming, as certified financial planners and special needs financial planners, we can help. Ask your human resources department if your company offers this service as part of your benefits package.
These core planning points are a baseline of what should be considered in special needs planning for every stage. Think of them as the basics you need to consider regardless of the age of your family member. They should of course be reexamined from time to time to be certain the recommendations stay current with your own family's needs.
FAMILY & SUPPORT FACTORS:
- ASK the people whom you want involved with your family member's life whether or not they want to be involved before you just name them in your plan.
- HELP prepare future guardians, caretakers, trustees and successors for their roles.
- COMPLETE a Letter of Intent
- When grandparents or other friends or relatives offer to help by including your child in their gift or estate plans, say THANK YOU.
- ENCOURAGE them to have their advisors speak with your advisors who specialize in disability planning.
- BE CONNECTED with family support agencies in your area.
- REVIEW your current financial plan -as often as possible.
- Work with a PROFESSIONAL who is knowledgeable in disability planning. See our checklist for questions to ask a financial planner.
- PROTECT your family with adequate life insurance, long-term disability insurance, and long-term care insurance coverage for primary caregivers.
- IDENTIFY all employee benefits for which you are eligible.
- DO NOT establish a savings or investment account in your child's name.
Part II of ths blog will contain checklists for the Legal, Government and Emotional Factors in planning for your child with special needs.
It is important to articulate your own values concerning money in the context of your vision for the future of your child with special needs. You need to make sure the people who you expect to implement your plans understand very well what they are. This is something many people find to be a difficult and even daunting task. Here are some tips for making the process go smoothly.
Bringing Family Members into Your Discussions
There are many ways to discuss your vision and your finances. It is often easiest to begin this process in a gradual manner and in an informal environment. Although it is important to have all family members in agreement, scheduling initial discussion in a formal meeting or a large family setting is not always the best.
We recommend that you speak to one child at a time, to get their feelings about their willingness to help. This will offer them an opportunity to share ideas with you, rather than you telling them what you are hoping will happen. Remember, caring for a family member with disabilities is a lifetime commitment that you do not want to force on anyone, yet it is important for them to understand your intentions.
After everyone has had an opportunity to discuss their feelings and ideas in an informal way, you may wish to plan a discussion with everyone at once. Since every family's dynamics are unique, you will find the best way to communicate with your family. The following steps should help to move the communication process along smoothly:
* Share you vision.
* Talk about the best person to take on each role. For example, who is the best with finances? That person may be a good trustee or trust advisor of a special needs trust (for more information on selecting a trustee, see Chapter 9 of our book "The Special Needs Planning Guide"). Who is most involved in the day-to-day- life of the child? That person may be a good guardian.
* Ask family members if they feel able to perform their roles independently. If not, design your plan to give them resources to work with. For example, let them know that they could hire an investment advisor to help with the trust management or a social worker to help oversee supports.
Talking about money
In our combined 30-plus years of planning, one of the biggest obstacles that we have encountered is that people do not feel comfortable talking about how much money they have or the specific costs of providing services to individuals with disabilities.
Sometimes parents feel that they must treat all of their children equally. They feel that their children expect it. In many cases, however, siblings understand the financial realities and would rather make sure that their brother or sister is taken care of.
One the first steps necessary for you to be able to achieve financial security for your child is to overcome the reluctance to discuss the issues of money. We all know that it takes money to pay for services, staff, housing expenses, employment supports, transportation educations, health care services and the like. We also know that government does not have an endless supply of money to fund these services.
Talking to your family members about these important issues, and bringing them into the process of finding solutions, is so important.
Special Needs Planning Pointer
Share your Special Letter of Intent with family members and caregivers. A fill-in-the-blank version is included with our book, The Special Needs Planning Guide. Parents should make a point of completing one and keeping it up to date. Now is a good time to share it with future caregivers and make it a living document. Do not just leave it up to others to figure everything out after you are gone. Preparing this document in advance is a priceless gift that only you can give.