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5 Things Every Family with a Minor Loved One with Special Needs Should Know

If you have a loved one with special needs, you undoubtedly want that individual to enjoy every available benefit -- and not to be unnecessarily held back in any way. But the truth is that people with special needs are often placed in a position that does limit their ability to enjoy simultaneously the benefits of family wealth and the benefits of government assistance.

However, with the proper planning, your loved can enjoy access to family assets and assistance programs such as Supplemental Security Income. Here are five things every family with a minor loved one with special needs should know.

1. Know exactly what you're dealing with and how failing to plan can cause problems for you and your loved one.

Special needs planning is very tricky and technical, and the first step is to understand that there could be problems on the horizon and that now is the time to formulate a plan. Failing to plan could result in loss of your loved one's benefits; minimized access to family assets; and family disputes.

2. Identify a trusted individual who might need to step in as successor or guardian.

Life can be unpredictable, and it's important to plan for the unexpected, especially when your goal is to provide for a loved one with special needs. Identifying a trusted successor or guardian can help your family avoid confusion and uncertainty, as well as provide you with peace of mind. You can know that someone you trust will be there for your loved one. After you speak with that trusted individual, it's important to update your estate planning documents to reflect your decision.

3. If you need to establish guardianship, do so before your loved one turns 18.

Even when family members have the best intentions for their loved one, the process of establishing guardianship can quickly become adversarial after the loved one becomes a legal adult. By establishing guardianship sooner rather than later, you can help your family avoid conflict and confusion.

4. Consider getting all assets, including inheritance, out of your loved one's name.

There are multiple reasons to do this. If an individual with special needs owns significant assets, he or she likely will not qualify for Supplemental Security Income or other government benefits. And there may be a risk of the assets being unwisely spent or even stolen. If you have these concerns, talk to an estate planning lawyer about an effective strategy for transferring assets.

5. Consider the benefits of forming a special needs trust and perhaps funding it with an insurance product.

When assets are held in a special needs trust, the beneficiary can benefit from the trust while still qualifying for government assistance. However, it's important to consider the source of the assets; who controls them; and what the assets are for.

To learn more about these matters, please see our estate planning and elder law website. Our firm is honored to provide educational and estate planning services to individuals and families in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area and all of Oklahoma.

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