Volume 2, Issue 2
The Wealth Advisor
10 Tips for Helping Families with Special Needs
This month’s issue of The Wealth Advisor examines the unique planning requirements of families with children, grandchildren or other family members (such as parents) with special needs. There are many misconceptions in this area that result in costly mistakes in planning for these special needs beneficiaries. It is therefore incumbent upon us – the client’s advisors – to ensure that clients understand all of their options.
COSTLY MISTAKE #1: Disinheriting the child.
Planning Tip: It is unnecessary and in fact poor planning to disinherit a special needs child. Clients with special needs beneficiaries should consider a Special Needs Trust to protect public benefits and care for the child during the client’s incapacity or after the client’s death.
COSTLY MISTAKE #2: Procrastination.
Planning Tip: Parents, grandparents, or any other loved ones of a special needs child face unique planning challenges when it comes to that child. This is one area where the client simply cannot afford to wait to plan.
COSTLY MISTAKE #3: Failure to coordinate a planning team effort.
Planning Tip: Special needs planning dictates that the client’s advisors work together to ensure that there are sufficient trust assets to care for the child throughout his or her lifetime.
COSTLY MISTAKE #4: Ignoring the special needs when planning for the child’s benefit.
Special needs can include medical and dental expenses, annual independent check-ups, necessary or desirable equipment (for example, a specially equipped van), training and education, insurance, transportation, and essential dietary needs. If the trust is sufficiently funded, the disabled person can also receive spending money, electronic equipment & appliances, computers, vacations, movies, payments for a companion, and other self-esteem and quality-of-life enhancing expenses: the sorts of things your clients now provide to their child or other special needs beneficiary.
Planning Tip: When planning for a child with special needs, it is critical that the client utilize a Special Needs Trust as the vehicle to pass assets to that child. Otherwise, those assets may disqualify the child from public benefits and may be available to repay the state for the assistance provided.
COSTLY MISTAKE #5: Creating a “generic” special needs trust that doesn’t fit.
Another frequent mistake occurs when the Special Needs Trust includes a “pay-back” provision rather than allowing the remainder of the trust to go to others upon the death of the special needs child. While these “pay-back” provisions are necessary in certain types of special needs trusts, an attorney who knows the difference can save your clients hundreds of thousand of dollars, or more.
Planning Tip: A Special Needs Trust should be customized to meet the unique circumstances of the child and should be drafted by a lawyer familiar with this area of the law.
COSTLY MISTAKE #6: Failure to properly “fund” and maintain the plan.
Also, because this is an ever-changing area, it is also imperative that the clients revisit their plan frequently to ensure that it continues to meet the needs of the special needs beneficiary.
Planning Tip: Clients should consider permanent life insurance as the funding vehicle for special needs beneficiaries, particularly when the beneficiary is young given the often staggering costs anticipated over that beneficiary’s lifetime.
If the client may be subject to estate tax, consider having an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust own and be the beneficiary of the policy, naming the Special Needs Trust as a beneficiary. Alternatively, in a non-taxable situation, consider naming the client’s revocable trust as the beneficiary to help equalize inheritances if that is the client’s objective.
COSTLY MISTAKE #7: Choosing the wrong trustee.
Planning Tip: The trustee of a Special Needs Trust should understand the client’s objectives and be qualified to invest the assets in a manner most likely to meet those objectives.
COSTLY MISTAKE #8: Failing to invite contributions from others to the trust.
Planning Tip: Creating a Special Needs Trust now allows others, such as grandparents and other family members, to name the trust as the beneficiary of their own estate planning.
COSTLY MISTAKE #9: Relying on siblings to use their money for the child with special needs’ benefit.
What if the inheriting sibling divorces or loses a lawsuit? His or her spouse (or a judgment creditor) may be entitled to half of it and will likely not care for the child with special needs. What if the sibling dies or becomes incapacitated while the child with special needs is still living? Will his or her heirs care for the child with special needs as thoughtfully and completely as the sibling did?
Siblings of a child with special needs often feel a great responsibility for that child and have felt so all of their lives. When your clients provide clear instructions and a helpful structure, they lessen the burden on all their children and support a loving and involved relationship among them.
Planning Tip: Relying on siblings to care for a special needs beneficiary is a short-term solution at best. A Special Needs Trust ensures that the assets are available for the special needs beneficiary (and not the former spouse or judgment creditor of the sibling) in a manner intended by the client.
COSTLY MISTAKE #10: Failing to protect the child with special needs from predators.
Planning Tip: A Special Needs Trust created outside of a will ensures that information about the inheritance is not in the public record, protecting the special needs beneficiary from predators.
Sellers Johnson Law • 1 Research Court, Suite 450 • Rockville, Maryland 20850 • (240) 988-5530