Many challenges confront families of people with special needs. One of the most important yet often overlooked issues involves the future of the special needs person. How will he meet his basic needs if his relatives pass away first? Who will keep an eye on him if family members can no longer do so? What about medical care? Answering all these questions requires making decisions now to provide a happy future for a special needs person.

Special needs planning integrates legal needs, financial considerations, practical thinking, and more. The legal aspects often include considering whether guardianship is appropriate, drafting a medical power of attorney and/or a durable power of attorney, setting up a living will, and drafting wills and special needs trusts. Often, the person with special needs and his or her caregivers need these documents.

Legal issues often arise if the special needs person has certain valuable assets in his name. This is because government benefits for special needs people often hinge on the assets they hold. If the person is named as an heir in a will, has his name on a bank account with a large balance, is beneficiary of life insurance or retirement plan, or has his name on a deed to property, he may be disqualified from receiving benefits. Assets in a special needs person’s name can also be affected by bankruptcy, sought by creditors, or seized. One option to protect the assets is to form a special needs trust with the help of an attorney.

Special needs trusts come in different types. Some are intended to provide the sole source of financial support to a special needs person. Most are intended to supplement government benefits the person receives. The person may establish the trust themselves, or a parent, guardian, or other third party may establish the trust for the benefit of the special needs person. Every trust needs a trustee, who distributes the trust funds to the beneficiary. Trustees of special needs trusts are often parents, children, or other family members. Using a professional trustee is also an option. To ensure that the special needs person is not disqualified from receiving government benefits, consulting an attorney when forming the trust is a must.

Again, the special needs trust is just one of many options families may choose for their special needs planning. Families often use wills, powers of attorney, and other documents in combination with a trust and a financial plan. In order to start making decisions about future care for a person with special needs, many family members decide to write a “Letter of Intent”. This letter lays out what the family and/or the person with special needs want for the person in the future, including family history; education; employment; residential, social, and religious environments; medical care; behavioral management; and final arrangements. The letter can be a great first step in special needs planning before consulting professionals.



Attorney Vivian Ross-Bennett works with Texas and South Carolina families to develop special needs plans that suit their situation. She drafts powers of attorney and sets up trusts to protect special needs persons. Learn more and begin the process of securing a special needs person’s future by calling Vivian Ross-Bennett at (512) 330-4099 or emailing her today.



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