Last Updated on December 1, 2023 by Tresi Weeks
According to a survey by MetLife, most families of children with disabilities are very concerned about being able to provide lifetime support for their loved ones with special needs. Many of them do not believe these dependents will be financially independent. Yet, most still need to take steps to plan for the future, such as setting up a special needs trust, writing a letter of intent, naming a trustee, and identifying a guardian.
After the initial meeting with your special needs planner, it is essential to remain in contact. When life changes occur, your special needs plan should adjust accordingly.
Here are five critical reasons to get back in touch with your special needs planning lawyer:
1. Your Child With a Disability Is Turning 18
Parents of children with special needs often help with decisions such as what kind of health care the child receives and where the child attends school. They also may help the child set up a bank account and handle money.
In some instances, parents of children with disabilities may become guardians of their children when they reach adulthood so that they can continue helping with decisions after their child has reached the age of majority (age 18 in most states).
For instance, a child with a developmental disability that affects their decision-making may need a guardian to manage their affairs, particularly if the disability significantly impacts their mental capacity. According to National Core Indicators, adults with severe intellectual disabilities are more likely than those with mild or moderate intellectual disabilities to have guardians. Family members usually serve as guardians, though friends and professionals may also fulfill the role.
Your special needs planner can help you through the guardianship process, which can take several months. They can assist you with the following:
- Gathering the required materials, including an up-to-date physician’s report
- Providing notice to other family members
- Petitioning the court for guardianship
- Presenting your case at the hearing
- Helping you file the annual report with the court after becoming a guardian
They may also support you and your child in exploring the potential option of supported decision-making.
2. Your Family Is Moving Out of State
When you move to another state, your special needs planning attorneys can help you navigate differences in state laws.
Moving states could affect your loved one’s eligibility for benefits and how much they receive. States can differ in implementing Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and Medicaid.
Your special needs planner can assist by researching the laws in your state and helping transfer your child’s benefits. You will likely also need to hire a new planner in the state where you are moving.
If you are the guardian of someone with special needs, you’ll need the court’s permission to move and transfer the guardianship to the new state. Working with the court, your attorney can help you demonstrate that the move is consistent with your loved one’s best interests.
3. Your Family Is Facing Financial Changes
Financial changes can impact your special needs plan. A study by the RAPID Project found that families of children with disabilities reported experiencing more financial challenges.
Your attorney can update your special needs plan to ensure it reflects your family’s needs, goals, and financial resources. This may include the following:
- Adjusting budgets
- Revisiting investment strategies
- Modifying trust arrangements
- Avoiding taxes
- Safeguarding public benefits
For instance, if you can no longer fund a special needs trust, your attorney can help you find alternatives, such as using a life insurance policy.
4. A Parent of a Child With Special Needs Has Died, Retired, or Developed a Permanent Disability
A person with a disability who became disabled before age 22 may receive SSDI through a parent’s work record when a parent passes away, becomes disabled, or retires. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 1.4 million children receive SSDI benefits based on parents’ work records.
Your attorney can help protect your child’s interests while obtaining SSDI benefits in several ways:
- Helping determine eligibility
- Gathering evidence
- Completing an application
- Appealing denials
- Providing representation at hearings
- Communicating with the Social Security Administration
5. Your Loved One With Special Needs Has Experienced Health Changes
Per HealthAffairs, individuals with disabilities have higher rates of chronic health conditions. When the health of your loved one with special needs changes, your special needs plan should adjust.
For instance, when someone recovers from a severe illness, they may no longer need someone to make decisions for them; guardianship may no longer be necessary.
If a person’s health has worsened, a health care proxy or guardian may be necessary. Your special needs planning attorney can assess the situation, provide advice, and aid you in creating a plan.
When someone with a special needs plan in place passes away, your attorney can help with the legal issues that can overwhelm families following the death, including:
- Paying off government liens
- Repaying Medicare or Medicaid
- Handing the funds in the person’s special needs trust and estate
When your situation changes, don’t wait to contact your special needs planner. They can be invaluable in navigating through the challenges associated with a variety of life changes.