This past Saturday, September 14, I had the pleasure of serving as a discussion panelist for the “Life Planning for Persons with Disabilities” workshop sponsored by the Arc of East Ascension in Gonzales, LA. The workshop was a wonderful event and attendees had the opportunity to learn about many considerations when planning for a disabled child. In this post I will discuss several key takeaways from the workshop. Planning for a disabled child involves dealing with several key issues to help ensure that your child will have a competent tutor (guardian) and the financial resources available to meet your disabled child’s needs.
The first takeaway from the conference was the importance of planning to preserve eligibility for governmental assistance. Most children with a disability rely on governmental support (e.g. SSI and Medicaid); however, eligibility for these programs require impoverishment. If your disabled child receives an inheritance from you, or other family member, they will likely be disqualified from governmental assistance programs. Many people come to the faulty conclusion that they should disinherit their disabled child to avoid this outcome. In Louisiana, however, forced heirship does not allow you to disinherit your disabled child. A disabled child of any age is entitled to one-fourth of the estate as a forced heir. A much better solution is to leave assets to a special needs trust for the benefit of your disabled child. A properly designed special needs trust promotes the comfort, happiness and well-being of the special needs beneficiary without sacrificing eligibility for governmental benefits. Special needs can include medical and dental expenses, annual independent check-ups, a specially equipped van or motorized wheelchair, training, education, transportation, insurance, electronic equipment, appliances, computers, vacations, movies and other quality of life expenses. In short, all of the things a parent provides now to their special needs child. Parents wishing to leave a large sum of assets to a special needs trust may consider purchasing a second-to-die life insurance policy naming the special needs trust as the beneficiary. The life insurance provides a lump sum, income tax-free benefit using leveraged dollars. The term leveraged dollars refers to paying a small amount of premium for a much larger death benefit.
That brings us to another important takeaway from the conference, a special needs trust should be drafted by an attorney who is familiar with this area of law. This is a very complex and fast-changing area of the law that requires an in-depth working knowledge. You should seek a specialist practicing in the area of special needs planning.
Another key point was parents of a disabled child should plan to avoid an interdiction proceeding if possible by utilizing a power of attorney or continuing tutorship of a minor. An interdiction is the most intrusive and expensive means to handle the affairs of an incapacitated individual. Unfortunately, it is the tool of last resort if a power of attorney or a continuing tutorship of a minor is not available. Anyone over the age of 18 who has capacity to understand the effect of the document they are signing should draft a power of attorney for healthcare and financial decisions. A disabled child over the age of 15 but younger than 18 may be placed under a continuing tutorship. Both of these alternatives to an interdiction allow another individual to manage the affairs of an incapacitated person without going through cost and headache of an interdiction.
Finally, when it comes to your estate plan, do not procrastinate! By putting off this type of planning you are putting your disabled child in a position to both lose their governmental benefits and spend all of their inheritance on expenses that are provided for by governmental programs. You are also leaving behind a huge mess that your family will have to try to clean up.
So do not procrastinate. Contact attorney John Sirois today, at 985-580-2520 or by email at and have peace of mind that your special needs child and your family is protected.
For more information, visit John’s website at www.houmaestateplanningattorney.com.