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Families with special needs include parents, or other family members (either children or adults) with special needs, and individuals with special needs. These families face unique planning challenges and serious consequences if planning is inadequate or improper. If you, or someone you know, fits in this category, it is critical for you to remain proactive in your planning.

It is also vitally important to stay up to date with the constantly evolving options and rule changes that can impact special needs planning. As a society, we have come a long way from the old ways of planning for families with special needs, but this area will continue to be a unique challenge as governments reduce funding in areas that provide support to special needs families.

Unfortunately, all of these realities place an additional burden on these overloaded families. Because of this, you must have an effective plan in place if you have a loved one with special needs. Your loved one truly cannot afford to be without a plan.

Here are 6 practical tips for families with special needs to remember when planning:

  1. Don’t disinherit the person with special needs. In the past, family members with special needs were often disinherited based on professional advice. We now have much more effective ways to provide for loved ones with special needs — ways that will enhance their quality of life and perhaps lift them to higher levels of achievement. Government benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicaid, have been developed to provide only the basic needs of an individual. In essence, this means just above the poverty line. If you want your loved one with special needs to have certain advantages and resources, then you need to make other plans to provide for them.
  2. Don’t rely on siblings to use their assets for the benefit of a beneficiary with special needs. Again, an old way of planning was to leave assets to another family member with the hope that they would take care of their sibling with special needs. Sometimes this would work, but too many times there are problems that keep this from working. There are many ways in which a sibling can lose inherited assets meant for a special needs family member. Divorces, sudden death, lawsuits, bankruptcy or downright greed are just a few examples of what can go wrong with this old approach to special needs planning. Who would want to burden a sibling with this responsibility when there are better alternatives available that can protect all the siblings involved?
  3. Don’t procrastinate. Many beneficiaries with special needs rely on other people for their care, so putting off planning can be especially costly to them. None of us knows when our time will be up on this earth, so there is no perfect timeframe for planning except right now. When it comes to planning, procrastination is costly for everyone, but it is particularly costly for those who rely on others to protect and provide for them. If effective planning is not in place when the primary caregiver passes away, the beneficiary with special needs will never be able to compensate for the potential losses. The assets needed to care for them will be gone forever. We cannot overstate how critical it is to plan ahead for loved ones with special needs.
  4. Create a special needs trust (SNT) and carefully choose a trustee. Families with special needs must educate themselves about special needs trusts and how those trusts can benefit their child (or beneficiary) with special needs. One great resource for this is the Aca