You Need a Special Needs Estate Plan
If you have a special needs child there really is no question about it: you need a special needs estate plan. Without one, you risk your child losing their public benefits when you pass away.
At a minimum, the plan needs to include:
- A Special Needs Trust
- A Last Will and Testament for each parent
This is as far as many special needs estate plans go. It would satisfy its intended purpose — protecting your child’s public benefits — but we believe a good special needs estate plan should do much more than that. As important as those benefits are, it is also important that your plan ensures continuity of care and helps to maintain or increase your child’s quality of life.
Our Special Needs Estate Plan Features
Here are some of the features of our estate plan and how they help to protect your child’s future:
Special Needs Trust
Of course, the plan includes a Special Needs Trust. It protects your child’s public benefits by holding assets outside of their possession so the assets won’t count towards determining eligibility for benefits.
I favor an inter-vivos trust, one that is formed immediately, instead of a testamentary trust that is formed by your Last Will and Testament. By forming it immediately, you and your family can contribute to it at any time. Also, the trustees can get practice and experience managing the trust now rather than having the responsibility thrust upon them after you are gone.
Last Will and Testament
We will draft one Will for each parent which will fund the trust appropriately after you are gone. If you opt for a Revocable Living Trust as part of your Plan, the Wills will be fairly simple “pour-over” wills; otherwise, they will have all the details necessary to appoint an administrator and handle the disposition of the estate.
Durable General Powers of Attorney
These Powers of Attorney are used to provide for your needs should there be an emergency or should you become incapacitated. If you directly provide care for your special needs child, these legal instruments can be vital to ensure that nothing interrupts your child’s care.
Documents to Transfer Custody
If your child is a minor, has a continuing tutorship, or is interdicted, then a plan should be in place to ensure that custodial care is uninterrupted in case of an emergency. This can be achieved by designating short-term caregivers who can step in immediately in an emergency situation, and long-term caregivers who can take permanent custody if something happens to you.
Letter of Intent
Many people probably don’t consider a letter of intent to be part of a special needs estate plan, because it is not a “legal document.” I think it is critical. All of the legal documents of your estate plan are well and fine in giving legal authority, but they won’t actually explain what needs to be done. The letter of intent will clearly explain what your child needs and wants.
We won’t actually draft the Letter of Intent for you, but we will review it, offer suggestions about what to include, and make sure it is integrated with the rest of your plan to help ensure that your child is treated as the individual and unique person he or she is.
Life-Long Legal Support
All of our special needs estate plans include a very important feature: free periodic reviews for life. We think this is extremely important because so much can change in just a few years. Your life situation can change, the laws can change, your child’s needs can change. Any of these things can make your plan much less effective.
Whenever the law changes in a way that may affect your plan, or at least once every three years, we will contact you to review your plan and make sure it still fits your needs. If there are any major changes in your or your child’s lives, you should contact us, and we will review how the changes affect your plan at no extra charge.
Virtual House Calls
Preparing a solid special needs estate plan is a collaborative process between us. It is going to take a lot of work on your part, but we are all about making this process as easy as we can.
One way we do this is that, no matter where in Louisiana you live, we provide a very local service, even coming directly to you if you like. The only requirement for a house call from us is that you have internet access at your home so that we can look at documents and notes together.
These meetings will usually involve a paralegal or notary public who travels to your house and sets up to allow me to participate by videoconference. Other options include meeting at a local office, library, or hotel meeting room. Of course, you are welcome to meet with me in person at my office in Houma, but that is a bit of a drive for most people in Louisiana.
This service keeps your documents safe “on the cloud,” but of particular importance to our special needs families is the fact that you get a special emergency card that you keep in your wallet.
If something should happen to you and you end up in the hospital, there will be contact information on the card so that your doctors can get your directives such as healthcare powers of attorney. But what also happens is that emergency contacts are reached who can activate your plan to take immediate care of your special needs child.
A medical emergency can strike at any time. You could be in a car accident today. Having the emergency card means that the care of your child need not be interrupted.
How to Get Started
All you have to do is give us a call at (985) 853-8557. You will talk to our friendly paralegal, Renee’, who will take your information and set up a planning session. The fee for the session is $129.00 which you can pay by credit card, but the price will be credited to your plan if you decide to engage our services at the meeting.
The planning session meeting will probably be about an hour long, and there is a lot of work we both have to do leading up to it. I will send you a packet of worksheets to prepare yourself for the meeting. There will be a lot of information to gather and options to consider.
After the meeting, we will have worked out the details of your special needs estate plan and the payment arrangement for it. All of our plans are billed on a flat-fee basis. This way, there will be no surprises. For some idea, of the costs involved, our standard plan is $1,750, but options can push the cost up. Half is due at the start of the engagement and the other half on delivery of your documents.
What if There is Something Wrong With My Documents or I Change My Mind About Options?
We will revise your documents as many times as you like for 90 days after signing. You don’t have to worry about specific decisions or options and will have plenty of time to think on them while still enjoying the benefits and peace of mind of having your plan in place.
The sooner we get started, the sooner your family can have the protection only a special needs estate plan can give, so call today!