Question: “As 2016 begins, I am thinking again about planning for my son and his future with special needs. He is 14 years old, and at this time we are not sure how much support he will need in the future. His mother and I feel so overwhelmed, but we just don’t know where to begin. What is the first step we should take in planning for his future?”- Jeremy
Answer: I certainly understand your feeling of being overwhelmed when thinking about planning for your son’s future. As you think about this type of planning you need to consider many questions:
- Will my son need a Guardian when he turns 18 or can he make his own decisions without assistance?
- If he does need support for his lifetime; how much money is enough so he does not live in poverty? How do I fund it?
- How can I ensure that my son always has access to government benefits, and still have some money to use?
- Where will he live, and what is the cost?
- Who will oversee his care needs if he does need support and I am no longer able or if I am no longer here? What is the cost?
- If his grandparents want to leave him money to help with his support needs, how do they do that and not negatively impact his qualification for government benefits?
- What are his options when he leaves school and enters adult life?
- Are their tax ramifications that I should be aware of?
I am sure you have even more questions than I have listed above.
The first step is to organize all your questions and write them down. As with any area of specialty for your child, whether it is therapy needs, medical needs, or education needs it is normal not to know the answers to these questions; however, just like these other areas of specialty you found a qualified therapist, a qualified physician, and relied on qualified educators to guide you in making informed decisions to help your child. I suggest you do the same in this area of your family’s life.
The second step is to research professionals that specialize in this area of planning. You will find that most professionals who are considered Special Needs Planners will be Financial Planners and/or Attorneys. As you research, you can ask your network of fellow parents if they have started this type of planning and who they relied on for help. Ask your fellow parents if their planner helped them with all the questions you wrote down on your list. If they did not, then you will want to continue your search. Please know that Special Needs Planners are few and far between, and you may have to work with someone outside of your local area. Please continue your research on line, by searching for Special Needs Planning, reviewing websites, and calling those organizations. Ask them to schedule a phone call with one of their planners for a complimentary conversation. It is in this conversation that you will determine if this company can help you answer most, if not all, of your questions, and be able to assemble a living plan for your family and your son.
The third step is to hire a professional Special Needs Planner to guide you. The planner you choose should have a very specific process that you will work though with them, which will result in a plan with action steps that will provide answers to your questions. This plan should relieve your sense of being overwhelmed.
As you can see, finding a professional is a process, but finding the right one can ensure your son has the brightest future possible regardless of if you are here or not.
For more information on how to prepare for the future, be sure to contact a financial advisor who specializes in serving families with special needs. A Special Needs Plan is driven by what they call Unleash L.I.F.E.™- L.I.F.E. meaning Lasting Independence For Everyone™. This is accomplished with education, action, and support in the creation, implementation, and continued monitoring of a specifically designed lifelong and integrated plan for your family: parents, caregivers, your loved one with special needs and their siblings.
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This article was featured in Issue 44 – Strategies for Daily Life with Autism