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Planning for a Child with Special Needs

Posted by Aubrey Carew Sizer | Apr 04, 2018

Americans are living longer than they did in years past, including those with disabilities. According to one count, 730,000 people with developmental disabilities live with caregivers who are 60 or older. This figure does not include adult children with other forms of disability nor those who live separately, but still depend on their families for vital support.

When these caregivers can no longer care for their children due to their own disability or death, the responsibility often falls on siblings, other family members, and the community. In many cases, expenses increase dramatically when care and guidance provided by parents must instead be provided by a professional for a fee.

Planning by parents can make all the difference in the life of the child with a disability, as well as that of his or her siblings who may be left with the responsibility for caretaking (on top of their own careers and caring for their own families and, possibly, ailing parents). Any plan should include the following components:

  • A plan of care that carefully establishes where the child with special needs will live, who will be responsible for assisting the person with special needs with decision making, and who will monitor the care of the person with special needs.  It will help everyone involved if the parents create a written statement of their wishes for their child's care. They know him better than anyone else. They can explain what helps, what hurts, what scares their child (who, of course, is an adult), and what reassures him. When the parents are gone, their knowledge will go with them unless they pass it on.
  • At least one type of special needs trust.  In almost all cases where a parent will leave funds at death to a disabled child, this should be done in the form of a trust. Trusts set up for the care of a disabled child generally are called "supplemental" or "special" needs trusts.  Trusts designed to aid a person with special needs are commonly known as "special needs trusts".  There are three main types of special needs trusts: the first-party trust, the third-party trust, and the pooled trust. All three name the person with special needs as the beneficiary, but they differ in several significant ways, and each type of trust can be useful in its own way.  Choosing a trustee is also an important issue in supplemental needs trusts. Most people do not have the expertise to manage a trust, even if they are family members, and so a professional trustee may be a wise choice. For those who may be uncomfortable with the idea of an outsider managing a loved one's affairs, it is possible to simultaneously appoint a trust "protector," who has the power to review accounts and to hire and fire trustees, and a trust "advisor," who instructs the trustee on the beneficiary's needs. 
  • Life insurance.  A parent with a child with special needs should consider buying life insurance to fund the supplemental needs trust set up for the child's support. What may look like a substantial sum to leave in trust today may run out after several years of paying for care that the parent had previously provided. The more resources available, the better the support that can be provided to the child. And if both parents are alive, the cost of "second-to-die" insurance--payable only when the second of the two parents passes away--can be surprisingly low.

For assistance with planning for your child with special needs or to learn more about your options for special needs planning, call us to schedule a consultation today: (571) 403-2619.

About the Author

Aubrey Carew Sizer

Aubrey Carew Sizer is the Principal Attorney of The Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer PLLC, a Northern Virginia law firm providing representation for Wills, Trusts, and Estate Planning, Long-Term Care Planning, Guardianship and Conservatorship, Special Needs Planning for the Disabled, and Probate, Estate and Trust Administration.

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The Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer PLLC provides customized and affordable estate planning (including wills, living trusts, powers of attorney, and advance medical directives); elder law services (including long-term care planning, special needs planning for the disabled, and guardianships and conservatorships); probate, estate and trust administration (including advising executors and administrators of estates about post-mortem planning and the local probate process in Virginia), as well as general aging and disability advice in Northern Virginia, including but not limited to Arlington, Alexandria, Ashburn, Bristow, Burke, Centreville, Chantilly, Gainesville, Fairfax, Falls Church, Haymarket, Herndon, Leesburg, Manassas, Manassas Park, Reston, Springfield, Sterling, and throughout Loudoun, Prince William, and Fairfax counties.

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