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Special Needs Planning is a legal planning process important to any person or family member who has a disability. Disabilities can be diagnosed at birth, can be seen in adults, and can be caused at any age by illness or injury. Special Needs Planning can occur at any point during life; however, early planning helps ensure that important public benefits are not jeopardized. Planning at the point of crisis may include fewer options for the present and future needs of a person diagnosed with a disability.

Steps to Effective Planning

  • Plan before a crisis: Talk with an attorney experienced in Special Needs Planning to make sure that important documents are in order. Using an attorney unfamiliar with the laws that govern special needs trusts and government benefits may result in loss of benefits, financial hardship, and a diminished quality of life.
  • A special needs trust/supplemental needs trust may be established.
  • Parents and grandparents of a person who has a disability should have a last will and testament naming the special needs trust as beneficiary rather than naming the person who has a disability.
  • Beneficiary designations for insurance policies, annuities, retirement accounts, and transfer on death accounts should name the special needs trust, not the person who has a disability.
  • Parents of a child who has a disability should have financial and health care powers of attorney and may need a standby guardian. Mental health powers of attorney may also be appropriate.
  • A guardian or caregiver should be appointed to step in if the parent no longer is able to provide care.
  • If a child who has a disability is 18 years of age, that child should have his or her own powers of attorney and last will and testament.
  • If the child who is 18 and has a disability is not able to execute a power of attorney, a guardianship may be necessary.
  • A Summary of Our Wishes should be developed. This guides future caregivers, trustees, and family members and provides a seamless transition in care.
  • Participate in goal setting related to housing, post-high school vocational planning, and recreational and lifestyle decisions. Addressing these issues early and completely will ensure that opportunities for a full and rewarding life are not overlooked.
  • Develop an understanding of the child’s eligibility for public benefits.
  • Plan to utilize public benefits, government and community programs, and services to increase opportunities during the child’s life.
  • Arrange for health insurance. Minor children living in Pennsylvania who have a disability should have Medical Assistance insurance. Medical Assistance may be a supplemental insurance. Private insurance on a parent’s plan may continue until age 26. A child turning 18 may apply and be approved for Social Security benefits under the adult standards. Health insurance is now available through private vendors or the marketplace without regard to preexisting conditions and may be a suitable option.

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