Parenting, Legal & Planning
What You Need to Know about Selecting Professionals for Special Needs Financial and Estate PlanningFor parents of dependent children with disabilities, the importance of proper financial and estate planning is far more significant than merely focusing on investment or income tax planning. Many young and adult-age children with disabilities are incapable of caring for themselves. Their future quality of life depends on their parents' abilities and desire to structure a plan in coordination with government benefits available. Unfortunately, very few professionals are well-versed in this highly specialized area of planning. The results of an improperly designed plan can be devastating for beneficiary children with disabilities. The best results in planning can be achieved by a team of professionals qualified and experienced in special needs planning. While a qualified financial planner and an estate-planning attorney are the initial team members, others such as housing specialists, tax accountants, professional advocates, and social workers often make up the team as well. The following are helpful guidelines in selecting financial planners and estate planning attorneys.
Financial PlannersIn order to be a specialist, one has to be a generalist first. A comprehensive financial planner is trained and experienced in all areas of planning, including risk management; investment and retirement planning; estate planning; and income tax planning. Many financial planners focus only on certain areas of planning, such as investments and/or insurance, which may not always provide a holistic approach in planning. Special needs planning requires knowledge of not only all areas of planning but also various disabilities, government benefits, special needs estate planning laws, and funding strategies for special needs trusts. Some financial planners have been motivated to specialize in this area due to a personal experience in dealing with a close family member or a friend. They have the compassion, patience, and dedication to work with this special population.
Financial Planning DesignationsQualified financial planners have a designation in financial planning, such as Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) and a Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC®). The American College of Financial Services now offers a course for a Chartered Special Needs Consultant (ChSNC®). These designations also require planners to have continuing education requirements in order to stay current in their knowledge base. Several life insurance companies—such as Met Life, Mass Mutual Life, and Northwestern Mutual Life—train interested agents in special needs planning. Financial institutions like Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley also have advisors that offer special needs planning. There are also financial planners who are independent and choose not to be affiliated with any insurance company or other financial institutions.
Questions to AskFamilies looking for a financial planner with specialization in special needs planning may want to ask the following questions:
- How long has the advisor worked in the special needs planning area and how many families has he/she helped? Experience is very important.
- Does the advisor occasionally work with special needs families or is his/her practice focused on special needs planning?
- Does the advisor have a designation like CFP®/ChFC® and training in special needs planning?
- Is the advisor a solo practitioner or does he/she work with a team of other advisors also knowledgeable in special needs planning?
- Is the advisor affiliated with an insurance or investment company or is he/she independent? Are advisors affiliated with that company required to sell proprietary products?
- Does the advisor use a comprehensive approach, and is he/she capable of addressing all areas of planning? Does the advisor have training and experience to be a quarterback and connect with other professionals for other planning needs?
- Is the advisor knowledgeable on government benefits, state Medicaid matters, and different disabilities, as well as with changes in the laws related to special needs planning?