Once you have hired an attorney that you believe can guide you during this planning process and draft the necessary documents, it is time to put a plan together. While the attorney will assist you with this process, it is good practice to have thought about what you want for your family beforehand. In the simplest terms, the areas to consider when putting together a plan for when you pass or become incapacitated are your finances, healthcare, child’s conservatorship or guardianship, end of life arrangements, and your estate plan and child’s special needs trust.
Finances. You can be informal or formal about how you want your finances to be managed after you are no longer able to do it yourself. Informally, you can ask a trusted friend or family member. You can give that person the proper login information and designations with the bank to pay bills, sign checks, transfer money, etc. Formally, you can name a power of attorney to handle your finances. Keep in mind, both options require a responsible party to become the manager of your finances. Lastly, when your child turns 18, if necessary, they should name a power of attorney of his own to help with financial decisions.
Healthcare. This is another area where you can be informal and ask your family, friends and community to help once you cannot manage your own health. Alternatively, your attorney can put together advance healthcare directives that spell out how you want your health to be managed and who will manage it once you are no longer able to make those decisions. Advance directives include but are not limited to a living will and a health care power of attorney. In addition, your attorney can draft a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR). A DNR is limited in its scope and should not be a standalone directive but instead be used in conjunction with an advance directive.
End of Life Arrangements. If you think that making arrangements for your funeral is too much of a burden for your family or if you think there will be conflict around how to carry out these arrangements, there are a couple of documents that can give shape to your wishes. You can either name a person to carry out your wishes in the health care directive or you can put together an advance funeral directive. A conversation with your attorney can help you decide what is best for you.
Child’s Conservatorship or Guardianship. With your attorney, review and discuss your current conservatorship or guardianship and the steps needed to put one in place if you think your child might need one once you can no longer tend to their needs. A conservatorship or guardianship is appointed by the courts to handle the finances and health care of an incapacitated person.
Estate Plan and Special Needs Trust. Work with your attorney to write a will or revocable trust that names who you want your assets to go after you pass. Your child’s benefits (such as Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid) will likely be impacted if she receives an inflow of cash from your estate. Therefore, your attorney will draft a Special Needs Trust. A Special Needs Trust allows your child to live comfortably but will not jeopardize their access to government-sponsored benefits.
What you want and what your child will need will likely evolve over time. For that reason, it is important to revisit and review your estate planning documents every few years, and when there is a significant family event like a birth, death, or divorce. This is a challenging task. Please take the time you need and give yourself grace as you go through this process. It is very important especially for a family with a special needs child to have a plan. Let us know if there is anything else that we can help with.