The Special Needs Future is now! 11 Tips to make sure you are prepared
This question will date me, but here goes. Does anybody out there remember the Honeywell Corporation advertising campaign from the early 1970s? The beginning of the TV commercial escapes me, but its conclusion is burned into my brain. The announcer ended every ad with this memorable tag-line:
The future is now…at Honeywell.
Forty years later, those words come to mind when I talk about the future with young parents raising children with special needs. Overwhelmed as these dads and moms are by care giving duties, they only have energy for the here-and-now. They barely have time to think about tomorrow, much less about what life will be like for their children as adults.
Older parents, those who can remember the Honeywell commercials, who have raised kids with special needs, who have seen them become adults, know the truth of the matter.
The future is now…for kids with special needs
Because children grow up very fast. Before these young parents know it, the infants in their arms will be eighteen. Toddlers learning to walk with the help of therapists will be young women in the blink of an eye. Little boys strapped in booster car seats will be strapping young men in a decade. Teenagers will want to move away from home after graduation like their older siblings did. Eventually, these dads and moms will realize that their adult children will outlive their parents who advocate tirelessly for them.
So the future is now…if you’re a parent who wants to provide financial security for your child’s adulthood.
How to Begin
But how do you, as young parents already overwhelmed by care-giving, begin such a task? Start by educating yourself while the kids are still young.
1. Ask parents raising older children with special needs and parents who have adult children with special needs about the preparations they’ve made.
2. Attend a support group, raise the topic there, and see what advice others have.
3. Make an appointment with a lawyer to draw up a basic will – a task that needs doing whether or not your kids have special needs – and ask about resources and professionals experienced in special needs financial planning.
By gathering this information when your children are young, you’ll be better equipped to make financial and legal arrangements when the time comes to do so.
What to Have in Place
As your child with special needs approaches adulthood, you should make have the following legal documents in place:
1. Medical Power of Attorney (also referred to as health care power of attorney) with HIPAA release
2. Property Power of Attorney (also referred to as durable power of attorney) with HIPAA release
3. A Last Will and Testament
4. A Special Needs Trust: Necessary for adult children unable to manage their own finances after their parents or legal guardians are no longer living.
5. A Letter of Intent: This document tells future caregivers and trustees about the child’s needs, desires, and goals.
Where to Find Resources
If the list of legal documents is intimidating, or the process for creating them is fuzzy, don’t worry. A growing number of people and companies are writing about special needs financial and legal planning. Here are a few resources designed to explain the legal documents and processes for creating them in plain language:
1. Guest blogger Kathy Guzzo’s series at at DifferentDream.com provides a thorough explanation of Medical and Property Power of Attorney documents.
2. Merrill Lynch provides downloadable documents and an online seminar at their special needs financial services page.
3. Different Dream Parenting: A Practical Guide to Raising a Child with Special Needs devotes a chapter to special needs trusts and financial planning. It outlines the entire process and advises parents about how to locate reputable special needs lawyers and financial planners around the country.
The Future is Now…So Get Ready!
Your child will grow up faster than you can imagine. Therefore, wise parents start preparing for their financial security as adults while they’re young. You can be one of those wise parents by tapping into resources designed for parents in your circumstances and by accessing reputable professionals trained to ensure your adult child’s financial security. The sooner you start, the better.
In a few years, the future will be now…and you can be ready when it arrives.