Estate Planning for Your Child With Special Needs

Estate Planning NJ for Special Needs Children

Estate Planning for Your Child With Special Needs in New Jersey-It is Never too Soon
Carolann Garafola, Executive Director, Mt. Bethel Village

Estate planning has long been the topic that many run from, ignore or feel that they do not have the big assets that put them in the category of the wealthy. However, when a child with special, whether it be Autism, Developmental Disabilities or Traumatic Brain Injury, comes into the family, parents must face the reality that whether this child is their first or their third, plans must be made in case both parents are not living to take care of this child. Some families may think, my money will go to all my children and they will work it out. In other cases, some families may think, my oldest child will take responsibility to manage the finances for my child with disabilities or a brother, sister or god-parent make sure that adult housing is provided. Parents need to be in control of what happens until the day they pass; and so they need to consider such planning while they are alive.

Parents need to consider a number of issues that include:

  • Will my child with special needs be emancipated or would guardianship be put in place and need to pass from the parent(s) to a sibling or other relative;
  • What are my child’s medical, daily and long-term needs, especially in terms of housing?
  • How can I safeguard any assets in the form of monetary gifts that come to my child so that my child’s government benefits will be secure?
  • If family members are giving monetary gifts, how can I hold that aside prior to setting up a Special Needs Trust?
  • How can I find an attorney who can set up the Special Needs Trust?
  • What are the kinds of questions I should be asking an attorney in setting up a special needs trust?
  • What are the different documents that I will need to prepare for setting up a Special Needs Trust?
  • What are the different kinds of trusts that can be set up?
  • Will we begin to fund that Special Needs Trust immediately or at the end of life?
A parent will need to look at entitlement government benefits and other benefits based on assets, thus working with an attorney and an accountant will provide you with the knowledge to best protect your child with special needs and to access what is available. For example, Social Security is NOT based on financial needs nor affected by unearned income. However, SSI, Supplemental Security Income eligibility IS based on income and assets and MUST be kept below $2,000 total. Therefore monetary gifts and inheritances given to your child with special needs can jeopardize eligibility for SSI.

Thus, consideration of what to do with your home, your insurance and any retirement benefits that come to you and could pass to your heirs, requires answering a lot of questions; gathering of documents; planning; and careful due diligence in finding an attorney that will work with you to plan for your child with special needs. Speak with other families, attend seminars that are often held for free to meet with financial planners and attorneys, and seek out someone who prepares Special Needs Trusts as a specialty as they will more than likely be up on the latest laws. Check out the Internet to learn about such planning, and read as much as you can. The point is do it now.

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