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Estate Planning For A Child With Special Needs: What Parents Need To Know

Estate planning is an obvious concern for all parents, but if you have a child with special needs, it’s crucial that you are aware of the unique considerations that go into planning for a child who may be dependent on you at some level for their lifetime. If your child has special needs, you must understand exactly what’s necessary to provide for the emotional, physical, and financial needs of your child, in the event of your own eventual death or potential incapacity.

When creating your estate plan, there are two major considerations for you to focus on: 1) Who would care for your child if and when you cannot (also known as guardianship), and 2) How will your child’s financial needs be met when you are not there to meet them.  

 

Naming Legal Guardians for a Lifetime of Care
The first and most critical step in ensuring the future well-being of your child with special needs is to name both short and long-term legal guardians to take custody of and care for your child in the event of your death or incapacity. And as you well know, if your child will never become fully capable of independently caring for him or herself, your parenting responsibilities will continue on long after your child reaches adulthood.

Although this lifetime responsibility likely feels overwhelming, we’ve been told repeatedly by our clients who have a child with special needs that naming legal guardians and knowing their child will be cared for in the way they want, by the people they want, creates an immense sense of relief. Not only that, but we often build in unique plans through which the named guardians are carefully instructed—and even incentivized—to give your child the same level of attention and care you provide.

For example, we’ve created plans in which the named guardian is compensated for taking your child to dinner and the movies every week or participating in some similar activity if this is something your child enjoys doing with you. However, without written instructions (and perhaps compensation) built into your estate plan, fun activities like this are often neglected once you are no longer there.

For guidance on selecting the individual(s) best suited to serve as legal guardians and creating the proper instructions for them to provide your special needs child with the same level of care as you, consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®.

 

Providing For Your Child’s Financial Future: Special Needs Trusts

Beyond naming legal guardians for your child with special needs, you’ll also need to provide financial resources to allow your child to live out his or her life in the manner you desire. And this is where things can get tricky for children with special needs.

In fact, it may seem like a “Catch-22” situation—you want to leave your child enough money to afford the care and support he or she needs to live a comfortable life, yet if you leave money directly to a person with special needs, you risk disqualifying that individual for much-needed government benefits like Medicaid and Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI).

Fortunately, the government allows assets to be held in what’s known as a “special needs trust” to provide supplemental financial resources for a physically, mentally, or developmentally disabled child, without affecting his or her eligibility for public healthcare and income assistance benefits. However, the rules for such trusts are complicated and can vary greatly between states, so you should always work with us, your Personal Family Lawyer® in order to create a comprehensive special needs trust that’s properly structured and appropriate for your child’s specific situation.

 

Setting Up The Trust

Funds from a special needs trust cannot be distributed directly to your child, and instead must be disbursed to a third party who’s responsible for managing the trust. Given this, when you initially set up the trust, you will likely be both the Grantor (trust creator) and Trustee (the person responsible for managing the trust), and your child with special needs is the trust’s Beneficiary.

You’ll then name the person you want responsible for administering the trust’s funds upon your death or incapacity as the Successor Trustee. To avoid conflicts of interest, overburdening the legal guardian with too much responsibility, and providing a system of checks and balances, it may be a wise decision to name someone other than your child’s legal guardian as a Trustee.

As the parent, you serve as the Trustee until you die or become incapacitated, at which time the Successor Trustee takes over. Each person who serves as Trustee is legally required to follow the trust’s terms and use its funds and property for the benefit of your special needs child.

Additionally, you should name multiple Successor Trustees—which can even be a trust company, bank, or another professional fiduciary—as backups in case something happens to prevent the individual you’ve named as primary Trustee from serving.

There are two ways to set up a special needs trust. In the first option, we build it into your revocable living trust, and it will arise, or spring up, upon your death. From there, assets that are held in your living trust will be used to fund your child’s special needs trust.

In the other option, we can set up a special needs trust that acts as a vehicle for receiving and holding assets for your child right now. This option makes sense if you have grandparents or other relatives who want to give your special needs child gifts sooner rather than later.

Finally, it is important to ensure that the trust will have sufficient funds to last throughout the life of your child. One common method to provide funding is for you (or another loved one) to name the special needs trust as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy. Another way is for family members and friends to make donations or gifts to the trust and/or include it as a beneficiary in their will.

Meet with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to discuss all of your available options for ensuring your child’s special needs trust has sufficient funds to last for his or her lifetime and for guidance on the estate planning vehicles best suited for passing money to the trust.

 

The Trustee’s Role

Once the trust is funded, it’s the Trustee’s job to use the trust funds to support your child without jeopardizing eligibility for government benefits. To ensure this is handled properly, the Trustee must have a thorough understanding of how eligibility for such benefits works and stay current with the ever-changing laws. The Trustee is also required to pay the beneficiary’s taxes, keep detailed records, invest trust property, and stay current with the beneficiary’s needs.

Given this immense responsibility, it’s often best that you name a legal or financial professional who’s familiar with the complexities of the law as Trustee or Co-Trustee, so they can properly handle the duties and not jeopardize your child’s eligibility for government benefits. Alternatively, we can advise your named personal Trustee on how to manage the Trust.

 

Your Trusted Source For Special Need Planning
If you have a child with special needs, meet with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, for trusted guidance and support in creating a special needs trust and other estate planning vehicles for your child. We offer an array of estate planning strategies that are designed to accommodate the unique needs presented by a child with special needs and their families. 

We will assist you in passing on the financial assets needed for your child to have a rich quality of life, without jeopardizing his or her eligibility for government benefits. We’ll also support you in finding and appointing a legal guardian and/or Trustee to ensure your child is protected and provided for in the exact manner you wish when you die or if you become incapacitated. Contact us, your Personal Family Lawyer® today to get started.

 

This article is a service of Stephanie Hon, Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Just Married? 6 Estate Planning Essentials for Newlyweds – Part 2

As we head into the peak of wedding season, if you are a newlywed or are about to tie the knot, add “estate planning” to your do list. And yes, we imagine that at this happiest time of your life, planning for your potential incapacity and eventual death is probably the farthest thing from your mind, but getting it handled as part of your wedding planning is the greatest gift you can give your soon-to-be spouse.

First, be aware of the impact of doing nothing. If you were to become hospitalized for any reason prior to your wedding day, the person you love most in the world would not have the legal authority to make your medical decisions and may not even have the authority to see you in the hospital. Your beloved would have no access to your bank accounts and could even be put into a position of having to move out of your shared home abruptly in the event of your death.

Indeed, once your marriage is official, your relationship becomes entirely different from both a legal and financial perspective. With this in mind, last week in part one, [ INSERT HYPERLINK to Part 1] we discussed the first three of six essential items you need to address in your plan, and here we cover the final three.

4. Durable Financial Power of Attorney

As we touched on last week in part one, estate planning is not just about planning for what happens when you die. It is equally important—if not even more so—to plan for your potential incapacity due to a serious accident or illness.

If you become incapacitated and have not legally named someone to handle your financial and legal interests, your spouse would have to petition the court to be appointed as your guardian or conservator to handle your affairs. Though your spouse would typically be given priority, this is not always the case, and the court could choose someone else.

And the person the court appoints could be a family member you would never want having control over your life, or it could even be a crooked professional guardian, who would charge exorbitant fees, keep you isolated from your family, and sell off your assets for their own benefit. In any case, if you have not chosen someone to make your financial and legal decisions in the event of your incapacity, the court will choose for you.

To ensure your spouse has the ability to make these decisions, you should create power of attorney documents to give him or her this legal authority. You actually need two of these documents, and the first one is a durable financial power of attorney. A durable financial power of attorney would grant your spouse the immediate authority to manage your financial, legal, and business affairs in the event of your incapacity.

With a durable financial power of attorney, your spouse would have a broad range of powers to handle things like paying your bills and taxes, running your business, collecting government benefits, and selling your home, as well as managing your banking and investment accounts. Granting durable financial power of attorney is especially important if you live together before you get married because, without it, the person named by the court could legally force your soon-to-be spouse out with little to no notice, leaving your beloved homeless.

The second document you will need is a medical power of attorney, which we will discuss next.

 

5. Medical Power of Attorney and Living Will

In addition to the durable financial power of attorney, you will also need to create a medical power of attorney. A medical power of attorney is an advance healthcare directive that would give your spouse (or someone else) the immediate legal authority to make decisions about your healthcare and medical treatment should you become incapacitated and unable to make those decisions for yourself.

For example, medical power of attorney would allow your spouse to make decisions about your medical treatment if you are in a serious car accident or hospitalized with a debilitating illness. Without a medical power of attorney in place, your spouse would have to petition the court to become your legal guardian.

As we discussed last week, even though your spouse is generally the court’s first choice for guardian, you should spare your spouse the time, money, and trauma involved with the guardianship process by creating a medical power of attorney and naming him or her as your agent.  

While medical power of attorney allows your spouse to make healthcare decisions on your behalf during your incapacity, a living will is an advance directive that explains how you would want your medical care handled, particularly at the end of life. A medical power of attorney and a living will work closely together, and for this reason, they are sometimes combined into a single document.

Within the terms of your living will, you can spell out things, such as if and when you would want life support removed should you ever require it, whether you would want hydration and nutrition supplied, and even what kind of food you want and who can visit you in the hospital. 

One tragic example of just how nightmarish things can become in the event you are incapacitated without advance directives in place is the case of Florida’s Terry Schiavo, who spent 15 years in a vegetative state after suffering a heart attack at age 26. Because she had neither a medical power of attorney nor a living will Schiavo’s young husband fought her parents in court for years for permission to remove her from life support, and the resulting litigation made news headlines around the world and exposed a deep divide among Americans over the right-to-die movement.

 

6. Name Legal Guardians For Your Minor Children
If either you or your spouse has minor children from a prior relationship, or if you are planning to have kids of your own soon, it is imperative that you select and legally document long-term guardians for your children. Guardians are people legally named to care for your children in the event something should happen to you and your spouse.

And do not assume that just because you have named godparents or have grandparents living nearby that is enough. You must name guardians in a legal document, or you risk creating needless conflict and a long, expensive court process for your loved ones.

When working with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, naming legal guardians for your kids could not be any easier or more convenient. Indeed, creating the legal documents that will ensure your children will be raised to adulthood by the people you trust most and are never placed in the care of strangers (even temporarily) is one of our specialties. And we accomplish this using our comprehensive system called the Kids Protection Plan®.

The Kids Protection Plan® provides you with all of the legal planning tools needed to make sure there is never a question about who will take care of your kids if you and your spouse are in an accident or suffer some other life-threatening emergency. Even if you have already named guardians for your kids in your will, either on your own or with the help of a lawyer, we often find that these plans contain at least one of six common mistakes that can leave your kids at risk.

This happens because most lawyers are not trained to understand exactly what is necessary for planning and ensuring the well-being and care of minor children. However, all Personal Family Lawyers® have been trained by the author of the best-selling book, Wear Clean Underwear!: A Fast, Fun, Friendly, and Essential Guide to Legal Planning for Busy Parents, on legal planning for the unique needs of families with minor children at home.

Best of all, we have created an easy-to-use (and 100% free) website you can visit right now to take the first steps to create legal documents naming the long-term guardians you would want to care for your children if you could not. Do it here now: https://honlaw.kidsprotectionplan.com

From there, you can schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session™ with us where we will put the full Kids Protection Plan® in place, and determine if there is anything else you might need to ensure the well-being and care of your children no matter what happens. 

Do not wait to take care of this urgent matter. In fact, if you have minor children, your number-one planning priority should be naming legal guardians to care for your children should anything happen to you. And if you need any help with this process, reach out to us, your Personal Family Lawyer®, and we will be glad to walk you through it. 

 

A Trusted Advisor For Your New Family

Getting married is an exciting first step for your new family, and you should start things off right by getting your estate plan properly prepared. But here is the thing about estate planning—it is not just about creating a set of documents and then filing them away in a drawer and never looking at them again until something happens.

Like your family, your planning needs are constantly evolving, so you must ensure your plan is regularly updated as your assets, family situation, and laws change. If you do not keep your plan updated, it will be totally worthless when your family needs it. In fact, failing to regularly update your plan can create problems that leave your family worse off than if you had never created a plan at all. 

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we have built-in systems and processes to ensure your plan is regularly reviewed and updated, so you do not need to worry about whether you have overlooked it. What’s more, our planning services go far beyond simply creating documents and then never seeing you again. 

Indeed, we will develop a relationship with you and your family. This is so we can get to know you, your wishes, and be there for you throughout the many stages of life—and above all, be there for your loved ones if and when you cannot be. Contact us, your Personal Family Lawyer® today to get things started with a Family Wealth Planning Session™.


This article is a service of Stephanie Hon, Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. 

Don’t Let Diminished Financial Capacity Put your Elder Loved Ones at Risk – Part 2

In the first part of this series, we discussed the early warning signs of diminished financial capacity in the elderly. Here, we’ll discuss planning strategies that can protect your loved ones from incapacity of all kinds.  

With more and more Baby Boomers reaching retirement age each year, our country is undergoing an unprecedented demographic transformation that’s sure to challenge our society in many ways. There’s been lots of talk about whether Baby Boomers will have enough savings for retirement and the strains the generation will put on Social Security and Medicare. 

But there’s another issue that’s getting far less attention—the coinciding increase in the prevalence of dementia.

Along with a swelling senior population, the nation is expected to see a corresponding rise in those suffering from age-related dementia—cases of Alzheimer’s alone are expected to double by 2050. While the cognitive decline from dementia affects nearly every mental function, many people aren’t aware that one of the first abilities to go is one’s “financial capacity.”

Financial capacity refers to the ability to manage money and make wise financial decisions. A decline in financial capacity not only makes seniors more likely to mismanage their money, but also makes them easy targets for financial exploitation, fraud, and abuse.Last week, we listed six warning signs of a decline in a financial capacity. Here we’ll discuss estate planning strategies that can help protect your elderly loved ones and their assets from the debilitating effects of dementia and other forms of incapacity. 

 

Reducing the Risks

Taking steps to reduce the risks of diminished financial capacity is vital, but stepping in to help manage an aging parent’s money without threatening their sense of independence and privacy can be a real challenge. Even if they’re aware of their own impairment, many are reluctant to ask for help, and some may even deny there’s a problem. 

Ideally, you should address the potential for dementia and other forms of incapacity with your senior family members well before any signs of cognitive decline appear. Waiting until they start showing signs of dementia will only exacerbate the complications and could even invalidate planning efforts. 

Start by having a heart-to-heart conversation with your loved ones about the risks involved with incapacity, and how estate planning can help protect them. Approach the subject with care and compassion. Reassure them that your goal is to make certain they retain as much control over their lives as possible—and talking about the issue early on is the best way to do that.

For example, you should let your aging parents know that if they become incapacitated without proper planning, you’ll have to go to court and petition to become their legal guardian. This process is not only quite costly and emotionally taxing but there’s a possibility that the court could appoint a professional guardian, rather than a loved one such as yourself.

A court-appointed guardianship would mean that a total stranger would control all of their affairs—financial and otherwise—which is something they likely wouldn’t want. Professional guardianships also open the door for potential exploitation and abuse by unscrupulous guardians, which is something that’s on the rise given the sharp uptick in the senior population.

However, unless you have the legal authority to make your parents’ financial decisions, your ability to manage their money will be seriously limited. You might be able to work together with them for a while without such authority, but at some point, their cognitive impairment will likely reach a stage where you’ll need to assume full control—and that’s where estate planning comes in. 

 

Put a Plan in Place

The best option would be for your aging loved ones to put in place a comprehensive plan for incapacity as soon as possible. This way, they can choose exactly who they want making their financial, medical, and legal decisions for them if and when they’re no longer able to do on their own. 

There are a number of planning tools that can be used in an incapacity plan, but a will alone is insufficient. A will only goes into effect upon death, so it would do nothing should your elderly parents become incapacitated by dementia. 

While a will is important in planning for death, your parents should also put in place planning tools specially designed for incapacity. One such tool is a durable financial power of attorney. This document would give you (or another person of their choosing) the immediate authority to make decisions related to the management of their financial and legal affairs in the event of their incapacity. 

The downside of financial durable power of attorney is that it sometimes is not accepted by banks and other financial institutions, and you might still end up needing to go to court to get control of your parents’ affairs. 

A revocable living trust is a MUCH better estate planning tool to transfer control of your parents’ financial assets to you without court intervention should they become incapacitated. A revocable living trust, created while your parents have the capacity, can plan for the transition of their assets to your care and control in a way that feels safe and secure to them. Bring your parents to meet with us for a Family Wealth Planning Session to learn more about how this would work. 

Yet having the legal authority to make your parents’ financial and legal decisions is just part of an overall incapacity plan. They’ll also need to put in place planning strategies designed to address their healthcare decisions and medical treatment like medical power of attorney and a living will.  

We can help your aging parents and other senior family members develop a comprehensive incapacity plan, customized with the specific planning vehicles to match their unique needs and life situation.

 

Don’t Wait Until it’s too Late

While incapacity from dementia is most common in the elderly, debilitating injury and illness can strike at any point in life. For this reason, all adults age 18 and older should have an incapacity plan. Moreover, such planning must be addressed well before cognitive decline begins, as you must be able to clearly express your wishes and consent for the documents to be valid. 

Given this urgency, you should discuss incapacity planning with your aging parents right away, and schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session with us to get a plan started. If your senior family members already have an incapacity plan, we can review it to make sure it’s been properly set up, maintained, and updated.

Of course, if you notice any signs of diminished financial capacity or other suspect behaviors, you should immediately contact your Personal Family Lawyer® to address the issue. While there’s no way to prevent age-related dementia and other forms of cognitive decline, make sure your parents and other senior relatives know that they can use estate planning to have control over how their lives and assets will be managed if it does occur.


This article is a service of Stephanie D. Hon, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

New Developments Transform the Role Life Insurance Plays in Your Estate and Financial Planning

Within the past year, a combination of new legislation and the recent change of leadership in the White House and Congress stands to dramatically increase the income taxes your loved ones will have to pay on inherited retirement accounts as well as increasing the income taxes you owe on your taxable investments. However, purchasing life insurance may offer you the opportunity to minimize the effect of these developments.

To this end, if you hold assets in a retirement account, you need to review your financial plan and estate plan as soon as possible to determine if investing in life insurance or some other strategy may offer tax-saving benefits for you and your family. To help you with this process, here we’ll discuss how these new developments might affect the taxes owed by you and your heirs, and how investing in life insurance may help offset the tax impact of these new changes.

The SECURE Act

At the start of 2020, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE Act) went into effect, and the new law effectively put an end to the so-called “stretch IRA.” Under prior law, beneficiaries of your retirement account could choose to stretch out distributions of an inherited retirement account over their own life expectancy to minimize the income taxes owed on those distributions. 

For example, an 18-year-old beneficiary expected to live an additional 65 years could inherit an IRA and stretch out the distributions for 65 years, paying income tax on just the portion withdrawn each year. In that case, the income tax law would encourage the child not to withdraw and spend the inherited assets all at once.

Under the new law, however, most designated beneficiaries of inherited IRAs and similar tax-deferred qualified retirement accounts are now required to withdraw all of the assets from the inherited account—and pay income taxes on those withdrawals—within 10 years of the account owner’s death. Those who fail to withdraw funds within the 10-year window face a 50% tax penalty on the assets remaining in the account.

But this is just the first development that stands to affect the amount of taxes your heirs might face in the near future on inherited investments.

Democrats Take Control

As we highlighted in a previous article, the recent election of Joe Biden as President and subsequent Democratic takeover of the Senate will likely result in the passage of new tax legislation that could have a significant impact on your family’s financial and estate planning considerations. 

Specifically, it’s likely that within the next two years Democrats will pass legislation aimed at eliminating many of the tax cuts enacted through the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. As part of this legislation, we’re expected to see significantly lower federal estate tax exemptions, the elimination of the step-up in cost basis on inherited assets, as well as an increase in the top personal income and capital gains tax rates. 

One way you may be able to minimize the new taxes on both your tax-deferred retirement accounts and taxable investments is by investing in cash-value life insurance. Let’s break down exactly what this strategy might look like.

The New Role of Life Insurance In Your Estate and Financial Planning

Given the new distribution requirements for inherited IRAs, you should consider whether it makes sense to withdraw funds from your retirement account now, pay the tax, and invest the remainder in cash-value life insurance. From there, you can access the accumulated cash-surrender value of the life insurance policy income-tax-free during your lifetime via tax-free withdrawals and/or loans. And upon your death, the death benefit of your life insurance policy would be income-tax-free for your heirs.

By annually investing what you would otherwise put into tax-deferred retirement accounts into a cash-value life insurance contract, or by taking taxable withdrawals from your tax-deferred retirement accounts over time and reinvesting them in cash-value life insurance, you can effectively move these funds into a tax-free, rather than tax-deferred, investment vehicle.

This strategy could not only minimize the income taxes you pay over your lifetime, but it could also significantly reduce the tax bill imposed on your designated beneficiaries after your death since life insurance proceeds are income-tax-free.

Additionally, by investing a portion of your investable assets in cash-value life insurance, you can offset the effects of the proposed loss of income tax basis step-up upon your death, which we’re likely to see enacted through Democrat-backed legislation. What’s more, this strategy would also minimize your current income taxes on what otherwise would have been taxable income from your investments, as growth on investments inside a life insurance policy is not subject to income tax, including any capital gains.

Finally, if you stand to be affected by the proposed decrease of the federal estate tax exemption, which is currently set at $11.7 million, by placing the life insurance policy inside an irrevocable life insurance trust, you can remove the death benefit paid out to your beneficiaries from your taxable estate. In doing so, you would still be able to access the cash value of the insurance policy during your lifetime, either via a so-called “spousal access trust,” if you are married, or via a traditional irrevocable life insurance trust, if you are not married. 

Rethink Your Planning

Although the SECURE Act and the proposed new legislation stand to have an adverse effect on the tax consequences for your retirement and estate planning, investing in life insurance may offer you a valuable tax-saving opportunity. That said, you can only take advantage of this opportunity if you plan for it.

If you fail to revise your plan to address the SECURE Act’s new requirements and/or the proposed legislation that’s likely to be passed by the Democratic administration, you and your family could face a significantly higher tax bill. To prevent this from happening, schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session™ or an existing estate-plan review today.

With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we’ll work with you and your financial advisor to analyze all of the ways your retirement accounts might be impacted by the SECURE Act and the new proposed legislation and come up with the most effective planning strategies for passing your assets to your loved ones in the most tax-advantaged manner possible, while ensuring your current tax liabilities are similarly minimized. To learn more, contact us right away.

This article is a service of Stephanie D. Hon, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. 

 

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