10 Pieces of Critical Information for Parents Whose Child Has Special Needs
By: Bernard A. Krooks, Esq.
We are all aware that, as a general rule, we should all keep our estate planning documents in a safe place, readily accessible in the event they are needed. But in addition, parents of children with special needs should also create a binder containing all the information future caregivers will need to carry on after the parents are gone.
The information in the binder should be updated periodically to reflect changes either in family circumstances or the needs or desires of the child. In addition, it should note any other issues that may enable the child's future caregivers to effectively carry out their duties.
The binder should contain 10 separate folders for the following:
- Important legal papers for any children with special needs (for example, birth certificates, Social Security cards and health-insurance cards.
- The Letter of Intent, which parents should update at least once a year. The Letter of Intent is a nonbinding document that passes vital information about a person with a disability to future caregivers. It can include such things as your child's sleeping preferences, eating habits, and other important aspects of your child's daily routine. While these items may be second nature to you, in many cases future caregivers may not know them.
- Written instructions that spell out any wishes regarding final arrangements (burial, cremation, religious services or other ceremonies).
- Advance health care and financial directives such as powers of attorney, living wills and health care proxies. Having these documents in an easily-accessed binder can save your family the heartache and expense of a guardianship proceeding should you become incapacitated.
- Copies of any trusts — special needs trusts, living trusts, or insurance trusts — that may have been prepared. Remember, signed copies or originals may be needed to complete property transfers. Thus, you should also provide information about where the original documents are kept.
- A list of major assets and information about where they are kept (for example, insurance policies, stocks, mutual funds, bank accounts, with policy and account numbers, and the names of any brokers, insurance agents or investment advisors).
- Guardianship papers for your special needs child, if any, and a list of advocacy organizations that may be helpful. Also, write down any personal reflections or thoughts you may have about these organizations.
- The names of government agencies or case workers that you may have dealt with
- A list of government benefits your child may receive, as well as copies of any completed application forms. (These forms will help the future caregivers when they next apply for benefits on your child's behalf — especially as the caregivers may not understand the complexity of these applications.)
- Any other relevant papers such as tax returns filed for your child, information about housing options, schooling, and photographs of the family.
Especially when you are planning for the future security of your child with special needs, the process can seem overwhelming. But by having all the pertinent information in one readily accessible place, you enable others to see more effectively to your child's future — not to mention providing you with a great sense of relief.
About the author:
Bernard A. Krooks, J.D., CPA, LL.M (in taxation), CELA, is a founding partner of the New York law firm Littman Krooks LLP (http://www.littmankrooks.com/). A nationally noted expert on special needs planning, he is past President of the Special Needs Alliance (www.specialneedsalliance.org), a national non-profit organization dedicated to assisting families with special needs planning and related issues.
This material should be regarded as general information and is not intended to provide specific advice. If you have questions regarding your particular situation, please contact your legal or tax advisor. This article was written by a third party not affiliated with Merrill Lynch or any of its affiliates. The opinions and views expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Merrill Lynch or any of its affiliates. Any assumptions, opinions and estimates are as of the date of this material and are subject to change without notice. This material does not take into account your particular investment objectives, financial situations or needs and is not intended as a recommendation, offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security, financial instrument, or strategy. Before acting on any recommendation in this material, you should consider whether it is suitable for your particular circumstances and, if necessary, seek professional advice.
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