At some point, every parent must consider the possibilities of what will happen should they pass away before their children are old enough to care for themselves. This concern can be significantly more daunting when it involves special-needs children who may never become fully capable of living independently and supporting themselves. For these families, it is especially critical to develop well-thought-out plans to ensure children continue receiving needed care and attention after the parents are no longer around to do so.
Tending to children with special needs demands a unique set of responsibilities and requirements, including medical and nursing care, therapy, special education, private tutoring and transportation. All of these services typically come with costly premiums that will undoubtedly increase over a child’s lifetime. Although the government provides financial assistance via programs such as Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Healthy Kids and Kid Care, children may not qualify for these services when their personal incomes and assets exceed certain limits. Consequently, if a special needs child’s income rises above these thresholds, perhaps due to an inheritance or a legal settlement, he or she may no longer be eligible to receive those entitlements in the future. Fortunately, parents can overcome these restrictions by preparing for the inevitable and developing comprehensive estate plans that incorporate special-needs planning to protect the eligibility their children may have for need-based benefits now and in the future.
Special-needs planning helps families safeguard assets they wish to set aside to maintain the well-being of their disabled children before and after they are gone. Such plans typically focus on two priorities: preserving children’s eligibility for public benefits and protecting and extending the life of personal assets intended to pay for children’s ongoing care and quality of life. One way to accomplish both goals is to establish a special needs trust, also known as a supplemental needs trust.
Special needs trusts are financial instruments that safeguard assets and allocate money for the continuous care of special-needs children without jeopardizing those children’s eligibility for need-based government aid. They can be tailored to meet a family’s unique circumstances and the specific requirements of special-needs children, including such specific details as where a child should live; what specific care the child should receive; and how much money should be allotted for the child’s medical expenses, discretionary spending and so on.
Money held in trusts are not considered assets of the beneficiaries and will therefore not affect an individual’s eligibility for government benefits. Therefore, parents may name a trust as the beneficiary of life insurance policies or retirement accounts and safely pass those funds onto their disabled children without risking a loss of entitlements. Not only does this allow families to benefit from the discounted Medicare rates for children’s out-of-pocket healthcare costs, but it also allows them to use trust funds to cover expenses that exceed government assistance.
Reaping the full benefits and mitigating any potential disadvantages of special needs trusts requires proper administration and the guidance of experienced estate planners. For example, careful planning can help to minimize or eliminate pay-back provisions that require trusts to repay the government for amounts paid out during a person’s lifetime upon the beneficiaries’ deaths. Additionally, families can prevent a loss or reduction in benefits and the mismanagement or improper use of funds by relying on professional counsel to draw up trust plans that follow all current legal regulations and take into account extraordinary family circumstances.
While it may be frightening for parents to think about how their children will carry on without them, it is even more worrisome to leave those children alone, unable to advocate on their own behalf and unprepared to survive on their own. Estate planning led by experienced advisors can help families meet the long-term financial, residential and medical requirements of special-needs children who outlive their parents. Furthermore, it can provide parents with peace of mind in knowing that their dependents will continue to receive high levels of care and enjoy an enhanced quality of life during the parents’ lifetimes and long after they are gone.
About the Author: Lee F. Hediger is a co-founding director with Provenance Wealth Advisors, an Independent Registered Investment Advisor affiliated with Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisors + CPAs, and a registered representative with Raymond James Financial Services. For more information, call (954) 712-8888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Lee F. Hediger is a registered representative of and offers securities through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC.
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Posted on September 8, 2021