If you have a child with special needs, planning your estate takes on a whole new dimension; especially, as this article in Forbes points out, now that “state and local governments are tightening income restrictions for medical benefits and supportive services, which are typically paid for by Social Security and Medicaid. Those services are tough to find—or afford—in the private sector for many adults with disabilities so severe that they can’t live alone… As a result, it’s increasingly important to structure an inheritance in a way that won’t disqualify a child for such benefits down the road.”
Structuring an estate plan with a special needs child as a beneficiary takes special consideration. Because a direct inheritance could disrupt that child’s public benefits, “some parents simply leave another child all their assets in their will. If there are three children, they might leave two-thirds to the child who lives closest to the one with special needs.”
Unfortunately this particular strategy is rife with possible dangers. The heir may be tempted to use his special needs sibling’s money for his own purposes, or could decide he’s simply tired of being a caretaker. Even worse, the heir could pass away unexpectedly, in which case the entire inheritance would go to the heir’s spouse or children, with nothing left for the special needs child.
The article gives a number of suggestions for safe and reliable ways to leave your special needs child an inheritance, including leaving property to your child in a Qualified Personal Residence Trust, setting up a housing collective, and the tried-and-true option of a Special Needs Trust. But we know that each family is going to have different needs and goals, and there isn’t one solution that will work across the board.
If you have a special needs child your very best course of action is to contact a knowledgeable and experienced attorney to help you understand your options and choose the one that will best protect your child. See Q & A’s on Special Needs Trusts.