If your child or loved one has a physical, emotional, or medical condition resulting in a disability, Special Needs Planning must be considered. A disability may be evident at the time of birth, or it may be the result of an injury or accident at any age. Some disabilities are the result of disease or illness.
Children born with a disability, or who have acquired a disability through accident or injury, may be entitled to Medical Assistance Insurance, Social Security Disability and other means tested programs. People may not even realize that they or their loved one with a disability are eligible for benefits that could contribute to their quality of life. In order to maintain eligibility, they may need to have a Special Needs Trust or Supplemental Needs Trust in place to receive any asset owned by the person with a disability, or to receive income that may be gifted through life insurance, structured settlements or outright gifts. Parents of a minor child with a disability may find it is imperative to appoint a guardian to provide care in the event of their own death or disability. Further, a smooth transition into the care of a guardian is best served by developing a comprehensive plan that carries out the intentions of the parents for their child with a disability: A “Summary of Our Wishes.”
As children with special needs reach the age of 18, questions arise related to their choices and options for life beyond high school. Financial and Healthcare Powers of Attorney must be established for any person turning 18. These documents will provide for their welfare in the event of medical emergencies or loss of decision making ability. At this age, the extent of their capacity may be explored; are they able to act independently or does a guardian need to be appointed? Should they take advantage of an education system that may allow them to remain in high school until the age of 21, or should they graduate with their peers? Will the emerging young adult be able to work in a sheltered, customized, or competitive employment setting? How will working affect their eligibility for benefits such as Social Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Medical Assistance insurance? How would not working affect their sense of self or contribute to a life of possibilities? As a person ages out of the children’s service and support system, what and who will replace the needed benefits in the adult system of care?
Frequently, children with a disability require support in both pre-school and school age programs to ensure that services are delivered in a least restrictive environment, and with regard to the particular abilities of the child in mind. While self-determination may be the punctuation to goals in the Individualized Education Plan (IEP), achieving this is often the result of frequent and sometimes complicated negotiations, where the best outcomes require knowledge of laws pertaining to special education services.
Special Needs Planning with an attorney who specializes in this area of law provides an opportunity for creative discussion and legal products that help the transitioning adult and their family access waiver and entitlement programs, plan for housing and community services, and establish powers of attorney or guardianships allowing maximum flexibility and eligibility. The personal goals of the individual with a disability, observations of the family, and the guidance offered by astute legal planning, are able to join to create a seamless transition into a world of possibility and increased opportunity.