When you have an adult child with disabilities, you pour your heart and soul into their care. It is a labor of love, and the goal is their well-being and happiness. But what happens when you are gone? Who will step in? Do you have an estate plan? Those are uncomfortable questions that most people don’t want to think about. However, there must be a plan in place to set up care for your child should something happen to you. Read on for a guide to your estate planning checklist.
What Is Estate Planning
Many people believe that wills and estate planning are the same things. However, that is not true.
A last will and testament specifies your wishes after your death. Who will take care of the children and the distribution of money and property?
Even though estate planning covers the same things, it goes a step further. It also includes your wishes and provisions for how you want things to go if you become incapacitated while still alive and unable to speak for yourself.
If you have an adult child with disabilities, the last thing you want them to worry about is answering questions regarding your care or final wishes. It may be more than they can handle or just extremely stressful.
Estate planning provides everything in writing regarding your thoughts on a living will, what measures you want for your medical care, and so on. You are also able to document your final arrangement wishes.
It provides your choice for the financial power of attorney. This person will be able to conduct business and make financial decisions on your behalf. All of these steps provide security and peace of mind to both you and your child.
Gather Important Documents
There is a host of information and paperwork involved in caring for someone with special needs or a disability. In the event of your sudden passing or inability to continue with that care, there should be one centralized place where it is all kept.
This can either be a paper file or cabinet that is kept locked or a secure file on the computer that is password protected. Just make sure someone else has access to open either in an emergency.
One file should contain the personal information of you and your immediate family. Names, addresses, phone numbers, date of birth for all, and social security numbers. This is also the place for any emergency contact information.
Include copies of birth certificates, social security cards, life insurance policies, marriage/divorce certificates, car titles. You should also include the user name and passwords to any accounts that may need to be accessed.
The next file should include medical details. Provide a list of all doctor names and numbers, including any specialists. Document medications, diagnoses, and any allergies.
In addition, include all insurance policy numbers and contact numbers. If there are any Medicaid or Medicare benefits, all the details should be here.
Financial and Legal Information
The last file should contain all the necessary financial and legal material.
Here is where you store your financial information. Include all net amounts of income and the value of any assets. List any death benefits and designated beneficiaries.
If you have a financial advisor or preferred tax accountant, provide their contact information. It is also a good idea to list all recurring bills and how they are currently being paid.
Estate Planning Checklist: Create a Special Needs Trust
While you may want to leave the bulk of your estate for the care of your special needs adult child, you must be careful how this is done.
If your child currently receives SSI or disability assistance, there are limits on how much money or assets they can legally call their own. Making them sole beneficiary will put any government help at risk.
Your best option is to create a special needs trust. As an overview, this is a trust established to provide financial assistance without fear of losing any ongoing government assistance.
There are no stipulations on how the money must be spent, and no claims can be made against it from creditors. In the case of a disabled child, a third-party trust is often the best choice.
The assigned trustee, or trustees, oversees the distribution of the money and ensures the care and comfort of your child. The third-party option also allows for the re-distribution of any funds remaining at the death of that child.
Draft a Letter of Intent
One of the most loving things you can do to provide for the care of your disabled child after you are gone is to write out specific instructions in a letter of intent.
This is not a legal document but a detailed collection of all things related to the ongoing responsibility for your child.
The letter should include the history of their life up to this point. The highs and the lows and your hopes for the future. It should be addressed to the person you have designated as a guardian and/or trustee.
Proceed to include the daily schedule and routines that they are accustomed to. The goal is to have their life continue with as little disruption as possible. Are they involved in any social activities? Do they attend church or religious services?
Make a note of favorite foods, restaurants, or specific cooking instructions. Be sure to include foods to avoid due to allergies or medications.
If they are involved in any educational programs, provide the details and any ongoing wishes you have for their continued growth or job possibilities.
Lastly, include specifics on their final arrangements. The recipient of this letter should be able to pick up where you left off with your peace of mind as the goal.
Legal Assistance Is Available
If all of this sounds overwhelming, it certainly can be. The stress of caring for a disabled adult child leaves little time to prepare for the future. An experienced lawyer in this field will help guide you and assist in preparing all the necessary documents.
Hopefully, this estate planning checklist has given you the starting tools to put plans in place for the ongoing care of your child when you are no longer around.
For more information on how we can help walk you through this process, please reach out.