What are some of the methods to protect special needs loved ones after your death?
Having a special needs child or grandchild presents unique challenges during everyday life. It also necessitates special preparation during estate planning. If the child is expected to require special care and financial help into and throughout adulthood, provisions have to be made. These provisions will likely include considerations such as:
- How to divide up your assets fairly among heirs while providing for your special needs child
- How to establish a supplemental-needs trust to hold inheritance for the affected child
- Who to designate as an assigned trustee or guardian to care for the child after you pass away
In many cases, the supplemental-needs trust is invaluable in preserving not only assets for the most needy child, but peace among all the siblings. If possible, your will may assign equally divided assets to each heir, while the trust, or a separate life insurance policy with the special needs child as beneficiary, may keep all the heirs feeling equally valued and the special needs child fully protected.
Much depends on the income level of all parties. If the special needs person is receiving government benefits in the form of Medicaid or Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, he or she may be in danger of losing such benefits if left a substantial inheritance. This is because government benefits often depend on the recipient's income or total asset level. It is, therefore, essential to work closely with an experienced estate planning attorney so that the desire to protect the special needs child doesn't end up doing them financial harm.
Where a special needs child is involved there are also other arrangements to consider, relative to your own healthcare as well as theirs. It is possible, for example, that you want all of your children to make end-of-life care decisions for you. It is also possible that you want to exempt your special needs child from this process either because the child will be incapable or too distressed by the responsibility. The more you make such decisions and have them documented before you become incapacitated, the easier it will be for all of your family when the time comes.
Depending on the nature of your child's disability, his or her lifespan may be shortened. Though excruciating to face, you may have strong feelings about how the child's passing will be handled. If the child predeceases you, you may be too distraught to make rational decisions at the time. If you predecease the child, and the child is incapable of making his or her own end-of-life decisions, you may want the child's appointed guardian to follow your directives regarding subjects like whether and when a "do not intubate," or "do not resuscitate" (DNR) is appropriate. You may also have strong feelings about whether your child's organs or tissues should be donated at the time of death, or even about how you would like the funeral or memorial handled. Grim as making these decisions may be, it will hopefully provide you with a modicum of peace of mind to know that your wishes will be followed even if you are no longer around to carry them out. Estate planning for a special needs child is another way of continuing to provide individualized loving care even after you've passed away.