Estate Planning – Don’t Ignore Your Child’s Special Needs


Estate Planning for Special Needs.

Don’t Ignore the Issue.

     A friend of mine was recently approached by her young child’s teacher, who suggested that the child may have some “special” problems.   Although my friend and her husband thought that their child’s behavior was probably still within the range of normal for the child’s age, they took the child to an appropriate medical professional for evaluation, “just to be sure.”  The preliminary diagnosis that came back was attention deficit disorder.  

     Thankful that the potential problem had been discovered early, my friend updated the teacher and school administrators, asked them for more input to assist in the evaluation, and encouraged a team approach to address the child’s needs.  The response  was very supportive, but what struck my friend as “unusual” was the degree to which each one of them expressed gratitude that she and her husband had acted so quickly and taken the initiative to have things checked out. 

    Intrigued, I asked a few of my teacher friends about this reaction and was surprised when it was echoed in their own comments.  Apparently, when presented with the possibility that their child may have special circumstances, it is not uncommon for parents to ignore the school’s concerns, deny that anything is wrong (regardless of the circumstances) or even react in anger and accuse the teacher of being incompetent or biased.   I suppose I ought not to have been so surprised.   I know “in my head” that some people react this way.  I just never realized how common it is and, I suppose, I always presumed that most parents come around once the initial reaction has passed.   Apparently this is all too often not the case.  Of course, many parents do just as my friend did, and many more quickly come around and address their child’s needs with all of their love and ability.  But it seems that a significant number ignore the problem and “bury their heads in the sand,” leaving the child at a real disadvantage.

Special Estate Planning Steps Can Protect Loved Ones with Exceptional Circumstances.

     A similar thing can happen with estate planning.  Loved ones with disabilities or other challenges often require special planning.  For instance, in some cases a loved one may be receiving (or will receive) government assistance, such as SSI payments, medical coverage and agency services.  Without proper planning, these benefits could be lost if the loved receives an inheritance.  

In other cases, a loved one may not have a disability, per se, but may be susceptible to substance abuse, be easily taken advantage of, be immature, tend to be irresponsible, or just plain be his or her “own worst enemy.”   Extra care in planning may be appropriate, or perhaps even necessary, to assist and protect such persons.  Again, if problems are ignored or down played, those opportunities will be lost.   (By the way, this is not limited to parents.  The same concerns arise with inheritances from grandparents, siblings, other relatives and even friends.) 

Consider a Special Needs Trust.

     “Special needs” planning is a complex area and the details will be covered in other posts. The best way to plan for special circumstances is with a “Special Needs Trust,” sometimes also called a “Supplemental Needs Trust.” These are trusts designed to provide “extras” for persons receiving services, without disqualifying them from the government benefits they need.

Tell your estate planner that a loved one has special circumstances, or you may miss important opportunities to protect your loved ones and safely provide a means to improve their quality of life.  In some circumstances, your lack of planning may actually harm your loved one by causing unintended consequences, such as disqualification from public benefits.  Not talking about, down playing, or ignoring a special circumstance can be very dangerous.

About Helene P. Dreyer Koch

Estate Planning Attorney (Wills, Trusts, Probate) Indian Wells, California * 760.360.2400
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