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As a child with special needs approaches the age of 18, a variety of circumstances change. Programs that are available to help with the care of minors may no longer be available for adults. Eligibility for public financial benefits is subject to strict rules. Health care decisions may not automatically be left to parents or guardians.

Financial planning for a child with special needs is the first step in providing a solid base of lifetime support. Once the child turns 18, his or her income will be used to determine eligibility for public benefits. Earning too much — for example because of contributions from parents — will cause the loss of public benefits. This can be avoided through a Supplementary Needs Trust. Funds paid into the Trust will not be counted as income and, therefore, will not affect eligibility for benefits. Planning for lifetime care must include instructions as to how the funds in the Trust are to be distributed and who will manage the trust.

Other questions to be considered:

• Do special arrangements need to be made with a college or other educational institution?
• What arrangements need to be made for housing?
• Will the individual need care of a legal guardian even after turning 18?
• Can the individual execute a Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy?

Growing up and moving into adulthood is difficult for any adolescent, and even more so for a child with special needs. However, appropriate special needs planning can help make the transition go more smoothly for the whole family.

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