As the parent of a child with special needs, the primary estate planning documents consisting of a Will, Advance Medical Directives, Health Care Proxy, and a Durable Power of Attorney might not be adequate for your family situation. If your child cannot support herself or live independently as an adult and rely on state and federal benefits, you should make special provisions for her in your estate plan. Here are the three essential documents:
- Guardianship Nomination. Foremost among the essential documents is the Guardianship nomination. You should include a Guardianship nomination for all of your minor children in your Will. When your child reaches age 18, she is considered an adult by law, even if her disabilities are severe. Therefore, selecting a Guardian for your disabled child can help reduce the stress and uncertainty for other family members after your death. Often the person you nominate as guardian will typically be given preference by the court.
- Special Needs Trust. At all costs, avoid leaving your estate directly to a disabled child. Instead, the funds should be left in a specially drafted trust for the child’s benefit. Otherwise, you may cause your child to be disqualified from essential Federal and State provided benefits. A properly drafted Special Needs Trust can help ensure that any funds and property allocated to the Trust are managed for your child’s lifetime. In addition, if the Trust is properly administered, the funds held inside the Trust will not be countable. This helps to preserve your child’s eligibility for public benefits such as Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid.
- Letter of Intent. This non-binding document captures essential information about your child for future caregivers and trustees. It can include information about their daily medical history, routines, preferences, allergies, and so on. As parents, you have gathered a lifetime’s worth of information about your child information. The Letter of Intent is invaluable to your child’s future caregivers. You should ask your attorney to keep a copy of the Letter of Intent with your other estate planning documents. Many parents find it helpful to also store their letter of intent and other essential documents online using a service such as www.Vestlife.com.