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All parents make plans for their kids, but when a child has special needs, those plans require additional dimensions. Your estate plan should address questions of guardianship and include detailed instructions – a letter of intent – for anyone who may assume that role.
Because public benefits such as Medicaid and SSI (Social Security Income) will probably be key to your child’s financial well-being – yet don’t cover expenses commonly deemed necessities – you should establish a supplemental fund. A special needs trust – sometimes called a supplemental needs trust – is a vehicle that will enable you to set aside funds to enhance your child’s lifestyle without affecting her eligibility for government programs.
At the age of 18, an individual with special needs is legally considered an adult, regardless of the severity of the disability. If your child will be unable to make important life decisions, you should begin the process of filing for guardianship around the age of 17 or sooner, based upon your specific situation. By her mid-teens, you should begin transition planning in preparation for graduation from high school, at which point, many of the social services to which she has become accustomed will change. You, your child, and her network of support should explore further educational options, the possibility of a career, and residential preferences – all the factors that comprise the entry to adulthood.