Apr 3, 2017

Posted in Blog - "Altman Speaks"

Special Needs Planning: Education, Finances, Healthcare & More

Special Needs Planning: Education, Finances, Healthcare & More

Last week, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled that it is not enough for school districts to get by with minimal instruction for special needs children.  Specifically, the Supreme Court ruled that school programs must be designed to let students make progress in light of their disabilities.  This case helped to clarify the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which is a federal law that requires a “free and appropriate public education” for disabled students.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court agreed with the parents of an autistic teen who was seeking reimbursement for the cost of sending the teen to private school because they claimed that the local school system was not doing enough to help their child succeed.

In the decision, Chief Justice Roberts said the law requires an educational program to be “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”  Further, “when all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing merely more than de minimis progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all…”  He further ruled that “For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to sitting idly awaiting the time when they were old enough to drop out.”

While this ruling is seen as a success for special needs children, some groups and individuals argued that educational programs for disabled students should meet goals “substantially equal” to those for children without disabilities. Roberts rejected that standard, saying it was “entirely unworkable.”

The Connection to Estate Planning

The case above is just one example of the unique challenges that families with special needs children/family members face.  Navigating the many challenges – from finances and healthcare to caregiving and education – requires comprehensive, advanced planning.  Overwhelmed and misinformed, too many well-meaning families make critical mistakes when it comes to special needs family members:

  • Procrastination: Faced with extremely tough decisions, many caregivers of special needs family members put off planning. Often, it’s all they can do to keep things going day-to-day, much less thinking about what could happen 10 or 20 years down the road. None of us can predict the future, however, which is why the time to plan is now. 
  • Disinheriting a Special Needs Family Member: Many families believe this is necessary to ensure a special needs family member receives government benefits, but that’s not necessary with proper special needs planning.
  • Establishing a General Trust or Non-Specific Special Needs Trust: One size does not fit all when it comes to Trusts. Your loved one needs a Special Needs Trust, which provides for their specific needs and receives specific tax and benefits eligibility treatment.
  • Not Inviting Family to Contribute to a Special Needs Trust: Other family members can assist in the future care of a special needs family member through contributions, or including the Special Needs Trust in their own estate plans.
  • Relying on Family After You’re Gone: The only constant with family dynamics is that they change over time. There are complicated emotional, financial, and logistical considerations involved as it pertains to to caring for a special needs family member in the future. Without a specific plan and proper financial support in place, your loved one’s future is not secure.
  • Choosing the Wrong Successor Trustee: A major component of a Special Needs Trust is selecting a Successor Trustee to take over after you have passed. Too often, individuals who lack proper ethical standards due to greed or circumstances – even family members – will take advantage of their power over the Special Needs Trust.

Altman & Associates understand the pitfalls of special needs planning.  We’ll help you plan for your loved one’s future, protect their benefits and avoid costly (and often irreversible) mistakes. We’re also more than happy to work alongside your other trusted advisors (i.e. financial advisor) in the process.  Contact us to schedule a special needs planning consultation.

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