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Key Planning Steps for Parents of Special Needs Children

April is Autism Awareness Month.

Autism is a disorder that has grown remarkably in the last two years. The CDC last week released a report that now the disorder affects one in 68 children in the United States. This is an increase from the 1 in 88 children affected only two years ago. Boys are being four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed on the spectrum. The prevalence of autism has also increased 57 percent from 2002 to 2006, thus prompting The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to refer to autism a “national public health crisis”.

 Yet while autism awareness is at an all-time high, many parents are still in the dark as to how to make sure their child is physically and financially cared for in the event of their death or incapacity. This is why long-term care plans must be implemented as soon as a child is diagnosed in order to ensure the child is always physically and financially protected.

 The options for long-term care planning are various and depend on the needs of the child. Below are three easy planning steps to help parents of children with special needs plan if the unthinkable should occur.

 1.     Name Guardians- Parents should name short and long-term guardians who can oversee their child’s care if something unexpectedly happens to mom or dad. Without such designations in place, the child could end up in a lengthy custody battle—or worse—be placed in foster care if a crisis strikes.  Parents can give copies of their designations to the guardians themselves, as well as the child’s school, babysitters. This way everyone knows exactly who to call in an emergency.

2.     Set up a Special Needs Trust- A special needs trust is a legal tool that helps ensure a disabled individual’s financial needs are met over the long-term while preserving governmental benefits. Without a trust, any life insurance proceeds or other assets in a will left to the child could jeopardize their eligibility for Social Security or Medicaid benefits in the future (which is often the only health care option available).  

3.     Build a Team of Support- It’s never too early to start building a team of trusted caregivers and advisors who can immediately step in and help the child if a crisis occurs.   Such team members may include the child’s legal guardians, a trusted doctor, financial advisor, estate planning attorney and dedicated family or friends.  Building a team now also helps to ensure parents have the right people in place, as opposed to someone who will prey upon their child’s disability during a vulnerable time.

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