Planning for Families With Special Needs
Being a parent is one of the most rewarding experiences. It can also be challenging. The challenges are magnified when a child has a disability or, special needs. Thankfully today there are more resources available in the community to help guide parents. If you have a loved one with special needs, I invite you to meet with me to discuss how to legally plan for your and your loved one’s future. Here are some of the issues that we will explore together:
Guardian or Guardian Advocate – Which Is Best for Your Child?
Tell me about your child. I want to know about their education, their life skills, whether they have received vocational training, what they enjoy doing, are they working, areas in which they need assistance, whether they can discern between a stranger and someone to trust. Together we will talk about the protections that a guardianship can provide and the benefits achieved through a guardian advocate proceeding.
I encourage you to write down your questions and bring them to our meeting. While you are doing this please take the time to review the attached chart that compares a guardianship to a guardian advocate proceeding. Click here.
Applying for Supplemental Security Income Benefits & Medicaid
When a child is under age 18 and applies for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) through the Social Security Administration (SSA) the agency can look at the parents’ income and assets. The parents are limited to having only $3,000.00 in countable assets (i.e. bank accounts, stocks, investments). The amount of income that the parents can earn is limited and will take into account the number of children that require financial assistance. This concept of counting the parents’ finances is called ‘deeming.’ This can sometimes result in a child with a disability not qualifying for SSI due to the parents’ assets and income.
Deeming ends when a child becomes a legal adult. At that time, the agency can no longer look at the parents’ assets and income – only the assets and income of the now adult child. Your adult child will be limited to having no more than $2,000.00 of countable resources. The income limit for SSI changes each year. If your child is living with you, it is suggested you have your child contribute to the household expenses so that SSA does not assume you are providing free room and board and food which could result in your child receiving a lower amount of SSI benefits. You can apply for SSI benefits for your adult child online by going to www.ssa.gov.
In Florida when a person is approved for SSI they are automatically approved for basic Medicaid assistance. You do not need to file a separate application for Medicaid with the Department of Children & Families.
Planning an Inheritance for Your Loved One With Special Needs
Good news – you can leave an inheritance for your child or loved one with special needs and they can receive SSI and Medicaid. Placing the inheritance in a properly drafted special needs trust will protect those assets from being counted under the government benefit rules. Your child will not have direct access nor control over the special needs trust assets. The Trustee will purchase services and products for your child and pay the vendor directly. This type of special needs trust is not required to contain a payback provision to repay Medicaid at the demise of your child. You can designate who you would like to inherit the assets remaining in the special needs trust at the demise of your child.
Letter of Intent
We are all mortal and at some time will no longer be here to oversee the care of our children. Why not leave a road map to help guide the trustee of the special needs trust and the guardian or the guardian advocate of your adult child? We refer to this as a ‘Letter of Intent.’ The Letter of Intent allows you to create a running history of your child’s:
- Treating medical professionals;
- Food preferences and allergies;
- Likes and dislikes;
- Daily routine;
- Religious observations;
- Education and vocational training and skills;
- Birthday and how he/she likes to celebrate;
- Current government benefits; and much more.
When we work together to create a plan I will provide you with a suggested Letter of Intent for you to create and update each year. This is an invaluable resource for your child’s future.
Tip: Keep good records of your child’s diagnosis and any formal testing. Keep both a paper and an electronic copy. This will be very helpful to you, the guardian or the guardian advocate when helping your child to apply for Social Security Disabled Adult Child Benefits. This is a financial benefit your child may be entitled to when you retire and/or when you pass away.