Special Needs Planning – Part 3: The Next Step … Exploring Legal Options

In steps one and two of the eight-step PT planning process, you developed a “big picture” of the work needed to be done to create a unique life plan for your loved one with special needs, and then constructed the framework upon which your plan would be built.  You are now nearly half-way through the planning process!

In step three, you will undertake another critically important piece to your overall plan.  Legal considerations are, perhaps, one of the most complex and confusing parts of the eight-step process.  Properly prepared and executed legal documents can greatly assist in the care of your loved one.  Unfortunately, legal documents that are improperly prepared, or not executed in a timely fashion, can become long, difficult roadblocks to that crucial care.

Legal decisions require critical, careful consideration by you and your family, as these decisions will significantly affect the quality of care your loved one will receive.   Parents often find it very difficult to name a family member or friend as a guardian to care for their loved one, or to appoint a trustee to manage all of the financial considerations, after they die.  The daunting nature of these decisions leave families bewildered and render them unable to move forward.

Deciding what amount of money is correct or appropriate to leave for their child with special needs is a decision many parents are unable to make without guidance.  Parents often times do not know how to divide their estate between their child with special needs and their other children to ensure that everyone receives their fair share.  Making uninformed decisions can have disastrous, long-term effects for everyone involved.   A carefully crafted special needs trust incorporated into a comprehensive estate plan will ensure that all of your children’s needs will be addressed both now and into the future.

The issue of guardianship is complicated, with far-reaching effects, and is not a decision to be taken lightly.  Knowing and understanding the different types of guardianship, limitations, requirements, determining factors and protections under the law is necessary when determining whether or not to seek guardianship for your loved one with special needs.

Thinking through these issues and making some preliminary decisions prior to an initial consultation with an attorney can make the process a lot easier to manage.  Choosing the right attorney is critical. Drafting and executing legal documents such as a special needs trust as a part of an estate plan and the guardianship filings need to be handled by an attorney who is highly knowledgeable in these areas.  Many families make the mistake of going to an attorney who may be a family member or friend that they feel comfortable with, or have used previously for other matters, but have no experience or training in preparing these types of documents.  Others take the time to see the right attorney for an initial consultation, but then never follow through because the process is simply too overwhelming and confusing.

For many families, navigating the legal process can be the most stressful step in completing the eight-step plan.   By taking the time to carefully think through decisions and then discuss all of the potential options with a qualified attorney, a great deal of anxiety can be avoided.  Working closely with a qualified attorney and your Protected Tomorrows Advocate, and utilizing Protected Tomorrow’s easy-to-use online Future Care Planning System, will enable you to bring this portion of your future care plan to completion quickly and with peace of mind, as you will be able to rest assured that every aspect of this step has been done properly.