FAQ: Special Needs Legal Planning

Families that have children with developmental disabilities need to think about the long term, lifelong needs of their children. If a child with special needs is not going to be able to support themselves in adulthood, and may need personal care and support as well, the parents will have to think about things like caregivers, financial resources, and other supports their child will need. Special needs legal planning is designed to help parents put the pieces in place that will best accomplish their goals.
Medicaid and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits from the government are a critical part of any long term plan for a child with developmental disabilities. A special needs trust allows parents and grandparents to provide money through inheritance, life insurance, or other means to help take good care of the special needs loved on to the end of their life.
This is a specially created type of bank account that allows a limited amount of money to be saved and used by a person with a disability that began before the age of 26. It is an important planning tool for many families that is used in addition to a special needs trust, and is one of the planning tools that may be used in preparing a special needs legal plan.
Special needs legal planning is primarily focused on providing lifelong support and resources for a family member with a disability, but in order to do that the entire family plan has to be considered. If a parent, and sometimes a grandparent or a sibling, dies without a will, the family member with the disability may accidentally wind up losing their government benefits. Even if that can be avoided, there is substantial extra stress and financial cost involved in "fixing" the problem of an inheritance that is not properly set up.
When an adult (a person age 18 or older) does not have the legal capacity to make the decisions necessary for their own care, the Court can appoint a guardian (in some states it is called a conservator) to make decisions on behalf of the individual. Many parents are appointed as guardian of their child with disabilities when they turn 18 so that they can continue to take care of them. Without guardianship, the parent may not be able to make medical decisions or even talk to their child's doctor, talk to the health insurance company, talk to schools or handle banking needs.
A supported decision making agreement (SDMA) is a contract between a person who is need of support and the people who have been chosen as supporters. The contract says that the person in need of support will seek help and guidance from the supporters when facing certain life decisions. The person in need of support may create a durable power of attorney and a medical release in conjunction with the SDMA. The contractual agreement can go a long way in formalizing what may have already been happening, but it is not the same as a guardianship in that the person in need of support still has all decision making power, including the right to skip talking to their support team if they choose. It is a good tool for some people with developmental disabilities, but is not good for everyone.
A Red Boot Lawyer is any of the great team at Parker Counsel Legal Services. Our attorneys are specially trained to work with families who children with developmental disabilities, and our focus is on these needs. When you work with a Red Boot Lawyer you won't just be getting documents, we will be looking at ALL the circumstances and resources that may impact your family so that we can prepare the best plan possible to meet the personal goals you have for your child. You may not see actual red boots on all our attorneys, but our founder has been wearing red boots all her life and her passion for helping special needs families carries through in everything the firm does.
We currently have locations in four states: Austin, Texas, Denville New Jersey, Easthampton Massachusetts, and Portsmouth New Hampshire. Many of our services can easily be provided anywhere in these states.
Your initial contact with us will be by phone or email and we'll ask you to tell us a little bit about what your situation is so that we can determine what type of services you need and how we can help. From there, we will set up a longer consultation with one of our attorneys and gather information and answer all the questions you may have. If you are unsure what to do, we will help you figure it out. In all cases we will try to provide an all in price for the legal service you need so that you can budget properly and not be faced with any unpleasant "surprise" legal bills. If the nature of your matter prevents us from giving a flat fee price, we bill hourly but will give you the best cost estimate we can and discuss all the factors that will influence the cost. Once we begin work for you, you will be able to contact us as often as needed as we work through your matter with you.