We are proud to highlight Ryan Platt, founder of A Special Needs Plan. In this feature Ryan will discuss Special Needs Planning and will explain how planning for your child’s future does not mean that you are giving up hope or giving up on your vision of your child’s independent future. Parents are the best advocates for their children and work tirelessly to ensure they have the brightest and best possible future. Hope for our children is important to our belief system as parents.
GR: What is Special Needs Planning and where should I as a parent focus regarding my child’s lifetime needs?
RP: Special Needs Planning is a process to identify the financial, legal, and lifetime needs for you, your family, and your loved one with special needs. Special needs planning does not end with the identification of these needs, but includes the necessary action steps that you need to take to ensure a bright future for everyone in your family while you’re alive and well, while you’re alive but are no longer able to be your loved one’s primary caregiver because of your own health issues, and when you pass away.
I know this is a lot to think about, and can be very overwhelming, even slowing families down in getting the planning process off the ground. However, if you ask yourself the question, “If I was no longer able to care for my loved one today, would he/she be able to care for themselves?” and the answer is “No,” then you really need to go ahead and take that first step towards the future. I always advise that parents try to find people and professionals who can help guide them in this process, just as they have in their child’s medical care and therapy needs. Financial planning is another critical are of care, and once you take that crucial first step, you’ll be on your way in establishing a more secure future your child.
GR: By planning for my child’s future, doesn’t that mean I am preparing for my child to have support for the rest of their life? Doesn’t that mean I am giving up my hope, thereby giving up on the vision of my child’s independent future?
RP: In serving families with special needs loved one’s for over 8 years, the biggest lesson I’ve learned has been the power of focus. Every day is filled with one activity after another. It may be a doctor’s appointment, therapy, an IEP, or a chapter meeting; nonetheless, it can be difficult to focus. Many parents have expressed that the thought of planning weighs heavily on their hearts. Naturally, they’re concerned for their child’s future if anything was to happen to them. Parents have admitted that they put off planning because it doesn’t seem urgent for immediate attention.
As parents, our largest responsibility is the health and welfare of our children. Isn’t that the reason that we run from activity to activity, to improve the quality of life for our children? Do you believe it is your responsibility to secure your child’s future, even if you are physically not here to provide for them? If you answer, “Yes,” then Special Needs Planning will not be a loss of hope for your child’s independent future. Rather, it will give you a peace of mind that will empower you to focus on improving your child’s life today, with no worry for the future if you were suddenly gone.
GR: Why do planning?
RP: The reason to complete A Special Needs Plan is so you can stop worrying about what will happen when you can no longer be the primary caregiver, and instead replace that worry with the knowledge that you did all you could for your loved one. A Special Needs Plan ensures that you coordinate your financial and legal strategy for your loved one. It is critical to understand how to coordinate your assets with government benefits in order to maximize your loved one’s quality of life.
Government Benefits (SSI, Medicaid, etc.) are critical to your loved one’s continued care and lifestyle. Unfortunately, many families do not have the proper financial and legal tools in place to ensure government benefits will always be available for their loved one. It is possible that your child will advance and develop to a point of independence, which is the absolute goal.
A Special Needs Plan provides your family with the security and comfort in knowing you have taken the necessary steps to ensure your loved one’s future.
GR: What if I don’t plan?
RP: If you don’t put your own plan in place, the government will step in with their plan. This can result in any of the following:
- If the state cannot find a single home for all of your children, they could be sent to live in separate homes.
- The government decides how and when your assets will be disbursed.
- The government will choose who will care for your loved one.
- With no forethought and with no planning, the guardian and trustee will be blind in regards to the financial and emotional needs of your loved one.
- Regardless of the amount of money your loved one receives, it is automatically subject to repayment of Medicaid for all healthcare previously provided.
- In addition to payback of Medicaid, if the assets are more than $2,000, your loved one will also lose SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and future Medicaid benefits
- With these government benefits now gone, your loved one’s standard of living will be dramatically reduced.
- At this point, Medicare may be the only healthcare benefit available to your loved one. Unfortunately, the wait is up to 25 months – Can your loved one wait over 2 years for health care?
GR: Why don’t parents plan?
1. A feeling of being overwhelmed by the size of the planning task
2. Not enough time to dedicate to planning
3. Don’t know where or how to start
4. Not sure who to trust and who to ask for help
5. Don’t think they have enough money to worry about
6. It’s hard enough to get through each day
GR: Why is it so important to define my child’s future needs?
RP: If you have a GPS system, you know that in order for it to work, you must enter your current position, and then you must enter a destination. If you never enter a destination, the GPS system can never help you. The same can be said for your loved one’s future needs. If you never take time to program the GPS, meaning define the future needs of your child (ie. Therapy needs, Housing, Care-giving environment, Monthly Expenses, Medical Needs, Employment) and then attach a lifetime plan cost to those needs (so you know how much money it will take to provide these future needs) then you will become to the future needs of your child like that GPS System with no destination – INEFFECTIVE.
GR: Why should I have a Will or other legal documents?
Please remember that a Will does 3 very important things for you, your family and your loved one. It tells the court system:
- Where you stuff (property) goes
- Where your people go (who will be future care-givers)
- Who will Administer your Will (Executor/Executrix)
Without a Will the court will decide on these 3 items, which means your loved one may not receive the assets you would like them to or they will receive assets and they will lose their government benefit eligibility and your loved one may not be cared for by those you intended, because the court will decide where your loved one will live.
GR: Why is this necessary if we will just leave all of our assets to other children or to a family friend and they will see to it that our loved one will receive the proper care?
RP: This has been the prevailing planning method used in the past, it is no longer necessary to take this type of risk. For instance, when we leave money to another person, that money is now their asset to do with what they wish. They can decide to skimp on care for your loved one so as not to spend as much of the money and use more of it for themselves. The other risks we take with this model is liability. For instance, if the person we leave the money to ends up divorcing in the future, then 50% of the money you intended for the care of your loved one will most likely be given to the ex-spouse in the divorce settlement. Also, if the individual you leave the money to has financial difficulty (bankruptcy) or is named in a lawsuit, then the money you intended for the future needs of your loved one may be wiped out. There is a much better way to protect the needs of your loved one, and it is setting up a Special Needs Trust.
GR: What is a Special Needs Trust?
RP: A Special Needs Trust is a uniquely designed trust for you to leave assets that will provide for your loved one’s future care. By placing them in this unique trust, you will avoid the issues stated in number 3 above, but you will also protect eligibility for government benefits such as Medicaid and SSI.
GR: Why is it bad to have an insurance policy and name my child as a beneficiary?
RP: Beneficiary Designations are most notably found on Life Insurance and Retirement Plans such as 401(k), IRA, Roth IRA, Pension Plans, etc. These are important because they ignore the sentiments of your Will. You must ensure that you have the proper Primary, Secondary and Tertiary beneficiaries listed so your money goes where you intend.
GR: Why is it so important to secure my own future at the same time?
RP: If we imagine your life as a truck rolling down Life’s highway, then your child’s life is the trailer being pulled by the truck. Your child’s future is hitched to your well-being and to your successful future. The future of your child is contingent upon your own. If your truck breaks down, then in essence so does the trailer. Your child’s future is only as healthy as your own. As you begin planning for the future of your child, you must also plan for your future.
I know as parents, we are always putting our children’s needs before our own, and working diligently to ensure they are able to realize a vividly bright future. However, in the midst of that quest, it is important not to lose sight of your own journey. Please remember YOU, because your secure future, means your child’s secure future is not too far behind.
GR: Why do parents need to understand Tax System?
RP: The tax system can be complex to understand for a family without a loved one with Special Needs, however, it is much more so when we are trying to provide for a lifetime of needs when the parents are gone. It is important to understand that when you leave money to a Special Needs Trust, any asset placed in that trust are now taxed at trust tax rates, which are compressed. This means we must be cognizant of which assets we decide to leave in the trust in terms of taxation. We do not want our assets to be left in a trust only to see them eaten away by taxation. This would defeat the purpose. It is critical that we understand this today, because by understanding this situation today it will also allow us to decide which accounts we should fund today so that more of the money can be left to our loved one with as little taxes taken out as possible.
GR: Should I share this plan with others?
RP: Parents and Caregivers rarely take the time to document their child’s medical history, daily activities, therapists, schools, professionals involved in child’s life, organizations they are a part of, their child’s favorite things (ie. Music, Movies, Books, Blankets, Toys, Activities, etc.), behavioral issues, sensitivities, diet, and of course their hopes and dreams for their loved one. You, as the parent and caregiver, have learned quite a bit about your child and how they interact with the world, and we want to ensure the next caregiver is given a head-start so they can provide the best care possible for your child when you are no longer able.
It is critical that you share your plan with extended family. It is all too common for parents to do planning in a vacuum. This can be a problem when a well-intended grandparent leaves money for your child. This gift could disqualify your child from future government benefits which could mean losing hundreds of thousands of dollars of benefits over your child’s lifetime. This event can be avoided by sharing your plan.
About A Special Needs Plan:
A Special Needs Plan was founded in 2006 as a special needs planning advisory firm. They offer special needs planning educational products, planning consultations to families, as well as educational workshops and seminars for families, organizations, and financial professionals. They are on a “Million Family Mission” to reach one million families with accurate and credible information, as well as offering advisory services to families’ across the country. A Special Needs Plan is passionate about helping to alleviate the anxiety surrounding special needs planning and transform that feeling of anxiety into a sense of empowerment, so that families are able to provide for their loved one with special needs, while at the same time provide for the whole family. For more information about A Special Needs Plan please call 800-SN9-8610 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.