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If Your Child Has Autism, Make Sure These 4 Things Are In Your Will

Autsim Will & Special Needs Trust

Although everyone should have a will, as parents of special needs children, we need wills to ensure that our kids are well cared for and have a good quality of life after we pass.

My son has a dual diagnosis of Autism and Williams Syndrome. Here are four things I recommend all parents of children with Autism – or any special needs – include in their wills or estate plans.

1) A Special Needs Trust – A will is a basic legal document that details your last wishes and is often used to distribute your property or assets.

However, a basic will does not include provisions that are needed to protect and provide for your special needs child. This is where a Special Needs Trust comes into play. A Special Needs Trust can be a part of your will or it can be a stand-alone document. It allows you to designate and qualify your assets in a way that doesn’t penalize your child when it comes to his or her public benefits.

Eligibility for many government benefits is determined based on the resources your child or adult ward holds in his or her name. If your special needs child has too many resources, even by just one dollar, he or she may not qualify for, or may even lose, benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid. Even if your child does not currently receive government assistance, he or she may need it in the future.

A special needs trust is a way to protect your loved one’s current resources and future benefits. Through a special needs trust you can leave assets to your child or ward without negatively impacting his or her government benefits.

2) Designated Guardian – We often assume that a member of our family – maybe a sister or our own mother – will automatically be given custody of our children if something happens to us. However, this is not true unless you have a will, trust or estate plan in place that specifically names them as guardians.

Without a legal plan in place, anyone can request custody and a judge will decide with whom your child/children will live with. Choosing a guardian is perhaps one of the most difficult decisions to make. It’s important to choose someone you trust and who will respect your wishes for your child(ren).

Things to consider when selecting any child’s guardian are the guardian’s age, his or her family values, parenting style, character, willingness to serve as guardian and whether he or she already has an established relationship with your child.

With a special needs child there are even more considerations. Think about the traits that you, as a special needs parent, need to raise your child and does the guardian have these traits?  My top three traits for special needs guardians are 1) Energy; 2) Patience; and 3) The ability to advocate for my child. (See Related Post: 10 Tips On Choosing The Right Guardian)

3) Guardianship Letter & Instructions –  Once you’ve selected a guardian, you need to put them in a position to succeed if they are forced to step into your shoes. You should write instructions to the guardian about things they will need to know on how to parent your child.

Include things like your child’s routines, medicines, information about his or her medical providers, how to deal with sensory meltdowns, what is the best way to get them to eat or sleep. Simple things like their favorite stuffed animal that they need to go to sleep with at night or where they like to hide their favorite sippy cup or the name of their favorite YouTube videos are small details – but they are of big importance to our children.

We’ve had years to learn these things about our kids. Help your child’s guardian avoid having to learn from experience by documenting what you already know!  (See Related Post: How To Create A Successful Care Plan For Your Child’s Guardians)

By painstakingly detailing your routines and including details about what makes your child comfortable or happy in your care plan, you are setting your guardians up for success and for a smooth transition in case something were to suddenly happen to you and your spouse.

4) Conservator or Trustee – A conservator or trustee is someone to handle all financial decisions related to your child. A conservator helps ensure that money left to your special needs child is used for your child in ways that best benefit  your child.

Often times families ask me if their child’s designated guardian should also be the conservator or trustee. It depends. Your guardian can serve as both, but sometimes families prefer set up some up checks and balances by selecting different guardians and conservators. It’s important to select someone you trust and who will make smart financial decisions on your child’s behalf.  The guardian and the conservator work together in the best interest of your child.

Getting Started

As a parent of a special needs child and an estate planning attorney, I understand the challenges of adding one more thing to your plate. However, putting into place a will to protect your child with special needs is something we all need to do sooner rather than later – just in case.

We’ll walk you through the will planning process step-by-step. Initial consults are free.  We want to help you create a legal plan that best protects your child with special needs as well as your final wishes for your entire family. I can be reached at DJ@JeyLaw.com or 678.325.3872.

 

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