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Planning for the future: providing a meaningful life for a child with a disability after your death.

When we first sat down to write this book, we thought about the many elements that we consider essential to a comprehensive estate plan where a person with a disability is involved. We thought about the importance of developing a life plan for your child and the importance of communicating that plan to future caregivers in order to provide continuity of care after you are gone. We thought about the importance of a financial plan and the difficulties inherent in providing for the lifetime needs of a person with a disability. We thought about the various legal documents involved -- trusts, wills, and powers of attorney -- that will enable you to leave property to your child in a form that will permit proper management, while at the same time not imperiling your child's eligibility under government benefit programs that can be so vital. We thought about estate-tax planning, probate avoidance, and the protection of assets from the devastating costs of old age.

All of these items are important, and the major goal of a comprehensive estate plan is to deal with each of them. Omission of any one of these crucial elements from your estate plan could jeopardize your child's security...

Estate planning for families with a member who has a disability is different from other types of estate planning, because there is so much more that has to be done. Our goal is to convince you that estate planning is essential for every family and not an activity only for the wealthy. Parents must plan their estates, regardless of size, to secure the continued care and well-being of their child. Future caregivers must be selected, living arrangements investigated, and alternatives discussed. Families with limited financial resources must learn to maximize government benefits so that their child's financial needs will be satisfied.

...Many of these government benefits are unavailable to people who have more than an insignificant amount of property... You can leave property to your child in trusts that will provide for effective management and supplement government benefits, without affecting your child's eligibility for such benefits or subjecting the inheritance to government seizure under a cost-of-care claim. In fact, in many cases avoidance of government cost-of-care claims and maintenance of eligibility for goverment benefits are among the most important goals of an estate plan...

Although there are many alternatives that all parents with children who have disabilities should consider, there is no single magic formula for creating the appropriate estate plan. Every estate plan should be custom-fit to the family's circumstances and the needs of its members. The size of a family's estate affects the need for estate-tax planning and the importance of government benefits. The nature and degree of your child's disability will help determine the type of living arrangement that will be appropriate. The ages of your children -- both those with disabilities and those without -- affect your need for insurance. The size of your family might influence the distribution of property. The age and maturity of children without disabili-ties will determine whether you will need trusts for them, as well as for the child with the disability. In other words, estate planning is a process of weighing numerous alternatives and making decisions that you hope will improve and secure your child's life now and in the future.

The task is daunting, but it is achievable. We have helped many clients who have children with disabilities develop effective estate plans. Our book is intended to be a guide to effective decision making for parents who have children with disabilities. It explains the estate-planning process in an understandable, comprehensive way and provides methods of integrating the planning for children who have disabilities within the estate-planning process in general...

Laws and requirements about estate-planning methods are changing constantly. It is therefore necessary to check all your plans closely with a knowledgeable attorney before they become final. Once a plan is prepared, it should be periodically evaluated and revised to gurantee the maximum possible care for your child in light of changes in his or her life and changes in your financial situation.

Although there can be no guarantee that an estate plan will provide lifelong care and protection for your child, a plan is essential for parents who are concerned about what will happen to their children after they are gone. With a proper estate plan, parents can avoid a drastic interruption in care and do everything that is possible to ensure that their child will have a comfortable and fulfilling life.
COPYRIGHT 1993 EP Global Communications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:excerpt
Author:Russell, L. Mark; Grant, Arnold E.; Joseph, Suzanne M.; Fee, Richard W.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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