Making sure that a loved one with special needs has access to all the opportunities and services necessary for an enriching life can be costly and difficult to coordinate.
For most families, public benefits are a part of the solution. Many public benefit programs (like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid) are only available to people with very limited financial resources. These programs focus on providing basic needs – medical care, food, and shelter. They often do not provide “extras” like clothing, televisions, computers, cable and internet access, transportation, books, tutoring, travel and education. If these “extras” are to be available, the family must provide them.
Because of the expenses that come with caring for a person with special needs, well meaning family members often want to contribute by giving financial gifts directly to the disabled individual. Such a gift, even if given in a will or received through inheritance, could jeopardize benefits by making the special needs person financially overqualified for the programs that provide basics needs. In the past it was believed the best estate planning strategy was to disinherit special needs family members so that a gift through a will or inheritance would not cause disqualification. Disinheritance is an outdated and incorrect approach; although it may preserve benefits, it leaves no way to provide the things that elevate mere existence to living a rich life. If disinheritance is not the answer, what is?
James M. Miskell received his law degree from the University of Georgia in 1993. His Asset Protection and Estate Planning Law practice is located in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He offers free educational workshops and consultations to assist clients as well as fellow professionals in creating individualized solutions.