June 13, 2023

Empowering Your Special Needs Child Toward Independence

In Family Needs, Wealth Strategy

When we begin working with new families at Coldstream, we see some predictable patterns in their areas of focus. Perhaps their investment portfolio has grown to a size they no longer feel comfortable managing independently, or they have questions about when they can afford to retire, how to diversify out of a concentrated holding, or need help with risk management. While these are all core deliverables we are well equipped to assist with, many families are not aware of the wide range of ancillary services we also provide. One such topic is special needs planning.

According to the latest CDC analysis, autism affects one in thirty-six children by the age of eight, and nearly one in six children aged 3 to 17 have some form of developmental disability. This highlights the need for specialized planning to address the unique needs of these children. A generic approach to financial planning will leave important questions unanswered. While it’s impossible to cover all potential questions in this article, here is a list of key topics to serve as a roadmap in setting up your special needs child for success.

Vocational Training

For many, work is a profound source of meaning and life-satisfaction. It can make a world of difference having access to the resources that exist to help your special needs child find and maintain employment. However, finding and maintaining employment is often easier said than done. In Washington state, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVR) is a resource that can provide meaningful support. This program pairs individuals with a career counselor who helps them in discovering their interests, as well as their strengths and weaknesses based on aptitude assessments. With this information in hand, a participant’s counselor can then assist them with exploring fields of interest and finding appropriate employment opportunities. The DVR also assigns a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor to every secondary school in the state who can assist eligible students with the transition from high school to the work force or college.

At Coldstream, we have private consultants we recommend for one-on-one person-centered vocational planning. Consultants can help discover your child’s gifts and talents, interests, opportunities, and employment goals, and provide appropriate training and guidance.

Talk with a Special Needs Planner about Medicaid and SSI Benefits

Determining what support programs are available to someone living with a disability can be overwhelming. A special needs planner can help you understand the eligibility requirements for Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and provide considerable time savings for you. Even for families who may not need support at present, engaging in this exercise can make for smoother transitions down the road, such as when your child reaches adulthood or if you are no longer able to care for them.

Make Use of ABLE Accounts and Special Needs Trusts

While not appropriate for all situations, ABLE accounts and Special Needs Trusts can be a powerful tool for maintaining eligibility for means-tested benefits programs like Medicaid and SSI. For example, suppose that someone with a disability is seeking long-term care services through Medicaid. In the state of Washington, having more than $2,000 in countable assets would disqualify this person. Special Needs Trusts and ABLE accounts can hold assets for a person’s benefit without counting toward the strict asset limits imposed by Medicaid. Utilizing these strategies can provide immense peace of mind for families who want to leave assets to their child but have concerns about what it may do to their benefits eligibility. We recommend seeking guidance from a qualified professional to ensure that this strategy is appropriately implemented.

Develop a Life Plan Document

This document is sometimes referred to as a letter of intent or letter of instruction. While it is not a legally binding document, it will be invaluable to those you leave behind as they determine how to appropriately care for your special needs child. This document is where you can capture anything and everything that a future care provider or support person might need to know. For example:

  • Details about your child’s personality
  • An overview of their disability
  • Care needs
  • Trustee Information
  • Hobbies, friends, preferences
  • Ideal living arrangements

When families work together to create this document and engage in comprehensive planning, it facilitates a smoother transition following the passing of a caregiver.

Special needs planning demands personalized solutions that align with the unique circumstances of each child. At Coldstream, we offer structured planning and trusted resources to enhance the lives of families and individuals with diverse abilities. Contact your Coldstream wealth management team to discover how we can assist you or someone you know in developing a robust special needs plan for a more secure and promising future.

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