Special Needs Estate Planning for Persons with Disabilities, Part Two: Getting Started

Special Needs Estate Planning for Persons with Disabilities, Part Two: Getting Started

Special Needs Estate Planning for Persons with Disabilities, Part Two: Getting Started

Edward V. Wilcenski, Esq., is a founding partner of Wilcenski & Pleat, PLLC, a law firm concentrating its practice on Special Needs Estate Planning and Elder Law, with offices in Clifton Park, New York and Glens Falls, New York. He has presented at Transitions on estate and future care planning for individuals with disabilities and their families. The following series contains material from his presentations. More information can be found at www.wplawny.com.

Begin with a Comprehensive and Honest Assessment

Special Needs Estate Planning requires a working knowledge of a broad range of issues: government benefit eligibility, trust and estate law, estate and income tax rules, guardianship and more. In all cases, the planner must understand the nature of the particular disability and have a sense of what the future care and oversight requirements will be. In turn, the care needs will determine the resources required to support a comprehensive care plan.

This last consideration, identifying the level and cost of the services that will be required to provide support to a loved one, is often the most difficult. Families and caregivers seldom add up the costs of the various forms of support they give to an individual with a disability. Those who contend that a disabled individual's financial needs are minimal often forget to add up the cash value of the many services they provide. These can include serving as advocate, social service coordinator, companion, guardian, chauffeur, money manager and recreation director.

Some of these "quality of life" services are available through government-funded programs designed for individuals with disabilities. These programs typically provide only a basic level of support, and the items and activities that make our lives enjoyable, those that truly provide quality of life, must be privately funded. Moreover, the eligibility thresholds for most of these programs are quite low, and living within these thresholds can be quite difficult. As a result, families and caregivers often seek to supplement the goods and services available through these public benefit programs with their own funds, but without jeopardizing benefit eligibility. This is where competent Special Needs Estate Planning becomes critical.

The Elements of a Comprehensive Special Needs Estate Plan

Each Special Needs Estate Plan is unique, and it should maximize the formal and informal supports that the individual with the disability receives from government funded programs, family caregivers, community supports and others. However, all Special Needs Estate Plans contain three basic components: a legal plan, a financial plan and a life care plan.

Return to this blog next week for more information about legal and financial planning.