The San Francisco Chronicle recently featured an excerpt of an article called “Onslaught of Autism: A Mom’s Crusade Could Help Unravel Scientific Mystery.” The full article by Jane Kay was published in the Environmental Health News and follows the fascinating journey of Jill Escher, a mother of two autistic children, as she tries to understand autism within her own family.

The article reminds us of how important it is for parents of children with disabilities to have a well-tailored estate plan in place. Parents of children with disabilities are concerned about their children’s future income source. The child may currently be receiving or anticipate receiving public benefits such as Medi-Cal or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Parents may also be concerned about the care management, living arrangements, and general advocacy for their child after their incapacity or deaths. Family members of individuals with disabilities may want to leave assets to the individual in their estate planning yet are unsure how to do so without inadvertently disrupting the individual’s finances and care. If parents do not pay close attention, these issues may be difficult to resolve and have long-lasting detrimental impact.

A “Special Needs Trust” (also known occasionally as “Supplemental Needs Trusts” or “SNTs”) may be an appropriate estate planning tool for family members of children with disabilities. A Special Needs Trust is a type of trust that provides additional funds for a person with disabilities while preserving his or her eligibility for income-based public benefits. The additional funds received from a Special Needs Trust would not be considered to belong to the child, which allows the child to maintain his or her eligibility for public or other need-based benefits. These extra funds can help relieve some financial burdens as they may be used to purchase goods or services not ordinarily covered by Medi-Cal or SSI such as dental expenses and additional medical equipment, or to pay for a child’s educational activities, entertainment, etc. and, thereby, enhancing the child’s quality of life.

A Special Needs Trust can also establish a long-term management team, provide a safe and clean living arrangement, assist in finding employment, ensure that the beneficiary is not unnecessarily institutionalized, and assist in finding appropriate educational programs. With a well-thought out Special Needs Trust, parents will have peace of mind knowing that their child will receive the necessary care and be able utilize the resources available.

Determining the appropriate type of Special Needs Trust and planning for an individual with disabilities can be a daunting task. Family members of individuals with disabilities should consult an estate planning attorney who is knowledgeable in Special Needs Trusts to plan for their loved ones.

Vidhya Babu, Esq.
Fox, Shjeflo, Hartley & Babu  LLP