Special Needs Planning: What You Need To Know…

5E8B353C-37D4-448E-BD3B-FC060FD44E2AI have written a few other blogs that discuss the legal aspects of special needs planning such as the difference between first party and third party special needs trusts, as well as ABLE accounts and pooled trusts.  

I am very passionate about getting the word out in the community about having the appropriate special needs planning documents in place to ensure that an individual with special needs will not lose their government benefits in the event that a family member passes.  However, this article focuses more on how just having the documents may not be enough.

Parents with children with disabilities often worry about how the child will take care of themselves or who will take care of them, and what will be their quality of life.  

Assuming that we understand the importance of having the legal documents in place, it is equally as important to make sure that your specific wishes for your child about where you want them to live and how you want them to be taken care of are known.  

Take the time to discuss your wishes with the important people who are named in your document who may be the executor of your Will, the trustee of your trust, or the guardian in the future for a child with disabilities.  It’s not enough to have the document, but you must set forth your instructions in detail so that there is absolutely no question about what you want.  

We encourage parents to do personal care plans that will document in writing the details of their wishes for their children with disabilities.  While it is important in other areas of estate planning as well, I don’t think there is any area where it is more important to specifically set forth your wishes.  

I have found in my practice that people will always try to do the best thing for the individual with disabilities.  But at the end of the day, they are not the parents.  The parents are the ones who know what their wishes are and putting those wishes in writing in a personal care plan and having those conversations with the other family members or individuals who will be assisting is invaluable and cannot be understated.

Take the time to put your wishes in writing so that you save a lot of heartache and make sure that your child with disabilities is taken care of, not only from a document perspective but from a care perspective.

We can help.  If you have questions about how to implement a personal care plan for your loved one with special needs just contact us here and we'll reach out to connect with you and get you answers.



When it comes to estate planning, we define “disability” or “special needs” in a very unique and client centered way.

Brothers-1633653_640 (2)A colleague recently asked me to do a blog on the definition of disability, and sent me an article that broke down the definition of disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as medical terminology and other applicable definitions.

While trying to figure out how best to write this blog article as it relates to families who have children with special needs and whether or not they need special needs planning, I realized that the definition of disability is not necessarily what we should focus on. 

In estate planning, we often talk about a special needs trust as a way to provide assets to an individual with disabilities so that they can receive the money from the family, but also be entitled to any public benefits to which they may be entitled.  For sole reason, whether the person will need public benefits in the future is more important than the definition of disability.

Although many of the public benefits programs such as SSI or Medicaid or waiver programs for individuals with disabilities will often be predicated on the fact that the individual have a disability, those will be governed by the requirements for each individual program.  Many of them use the Social Security definition of disability, but each person will ultimately need to know which program they are applying for.

In the estate planning context, we always advise people that it is better to plan for the worst case scenario, and if the individual ends up not needing the planning that was done, there are always ways for a trustee to be able to distribute money out regardless, so it is much better to be safe than sorry. 

I hope this article gave some insight into how you cannot over-plan, but you can certainly under-plan.  In a circumstance where a family has a child or adult with a disability, and there is any potential that they will be receiving public benefits in the future, it is imperative that there be a proper plan in place so as not to take any chances.

In other words, secure your future as well as your family's future after you're gone. 

If you have questions about planning for your loved one with special needs, contact us here by filling our our simple form.  We hope to hear from you and help get your questions answered.


Special Needs Trust Planning Success Story

Brothers-1633653_640 (2)A person who was referred by their neighbor who is an individual with special needs recently called our office.  The person’s son had special needs and the family was hoping to qualify him for public benefits (such as Medicaid and SSI), but he was denied several times.  The family attended a special needs trust workshop that we held, and then met with us for a free consultation.

After meeting with them and understanding the facts, we were able to create a special needs trust for the son, to allow him to take the excess resources that he had in his own name and still qualify for public benefits such as SSI and Medicaid.  The value of the benefits to him was substantial. After we completed the special needs trust, the son reapplied for public benefits and was approved.

There are two types of special needs trusts: First-party and third-party special needs trusts.  A first-party special needs trust allows an individual to plan so that he or she can keep excess resources which he or she owns and still qualify for public benefits during his or her lifetime.  

The downside of the first-party special needs trust is that it is a payback trust, which means if there is any money left over, the state of Pennsylvania will get paid back up to the amount of benefits that were provided during the disabled individual’s lifetime.  In this case, however, given how young the disabled son is, we fully expect that the trustee will pay out all money during his lifetime, and there probably won’t be anything left to pay.

The family was ecstatic that he is able to get the benefits that he has been denied several times, and we were pleased to be able to assist them in getting him qualified.  The story does not end there, however.

The son’s grandparents passed away suddenly in a tragic car accident.  However, before their untimely passing, we also had met with them. They had mentioned that their grandson had special needs, and they wanted to provide a small inheritance to him because they knew that he would probably need more than their other grandchildren.  

We created a third-party special needs trust for his benefit for his portion of their estate. This third-party special needs trust, which was funded with the grandparents’ money, does not have any payback provisions to the state of Pennsylvania. The rationale behind this is that the money was never the grandson’s, and therefore the state cannot require it be paid back for their services.  

Happily, we were able to not only get the son qualified for benefits even though he had excess money, we were also able to create a plan which allowed him to continue those benefits even though his grandparents unexpectedly died.  

It is essential that families who have individuals with special needs engage in proper planning, and it is not only the parents who need to make sure that this occurs. Any family that has a child or individual with special needs should seek proper planning advice from a professional who understands special needs trust planning in Pennsylvania.  If you would like to learn more about special needs trust planning, please contact our office by calling 717-845-5390, or click here to fill out our short form online.

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