Providing Support for Adults with Disabilities

The number of Americans with disabilities is growing, and so is providing support for adults with disabilities. Parents planning for the future well-being of their adult children is a responsive, ongoing process. A Journal of the American Medical Association reports the life expectancy of adults with Down Syndrome has increased from 25 in 1983 to 60 in 2020. The same study cites that those with cerebral palsy, the most common motor disability of US children, may often live into their 50s.

The ever-increasing life expectancies of adults with disabilities mean that comprehensive special needs planning requires short and long-term planning to lay the foundation of five key elements to ensure a successful support system:

  1. Vision
  2. Living Accommodation
  3. Government Resources
  4. Private Financial Resources
  5. Legal Needs


How do you envision your adult child’s life after you’re gone? As you define and refine your vision to the extent possible, you should involve your child in the process. It’s important to focus on the strengths and abilities of the adult child, not just the challenges of their disabilities. This involvement helps promote self-esteem and independence to the highest degree possible.

Letter of Intent (LOI)

Although this letter is not a legal document, it provides key instructions and information about your child’s routines, preferences, and wishes. The LOI can and should be extremely detailed, including identifying caregivers, medical information and providers, and other individuals in their lives who may be a good fit to care for or support your child. Reviewing and updating the letter at least every two years or when significant changes occur is good practice.

Supported Decision-Making

If your adult child is capable and in charge of decision-making, selecting a team of trusted advisors is still important. This team may include family members, professionals, friends, and community services who all participate in your adult child’s success. The National Resource Center for Supported Decision-Making has information about the right to make choices by state.

Living Accommodation

Where your adult child will live depends on several factors, including their disability type and available financial resources. If your child currently lives in your home, don’t wait until you die to have them move into and experience a new home. Moving can be a tough experience while you are alive but catastrophic when you are gone.

Housing Options

  • Your home – It’s great if you can leave your residence to your child in a special needs trust as long as it also contains enough money to cover ongoing property maintenance, taxes, and other costs.
  • Another home – You might purchase a townhouse or condo for your child and hold the property in a special needs trust.
  • Section 8 vouchers – This federal program provides housing in the community to low-income people; however, wait lists can be long.
  • Group homes – Adults with disabilities can use private money or Medicaid payments to live in a group home. In some cases, this living situation also has counselors and other staff that can help residents live as independently as possible.
  • If assisted living is a requirement, a special needs attorney can help identify options.

Government Resources

Creating a schedule of the individuals, services, and organizations that have become your adult child’s support system. And how they are financed makes your vision for your child a reality. You can be creative, and pair speech, physical, and occupational therapists, as your child’s abilities develop more fully. Much of your child’s resources throughout adult life will depend on the continuation of government programs that provide the support and services they need.

Government Assistance Programs

It’s wise to involve a special needs attorney to explain how to properly manage these resources. In order to preserve your child’s access to government programs.

A person with developmental disabilities can often access the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Which guarantees a minimum income to qualifying low-income recipients. A representative payee can assist those individuals who are unable to manage their finances.

To be eligible for Medicaid benefits, the recipient must have a limited income and assets (assets not protected by ABLE or Special Needs Trust accounts) and covers a broad range of health care costs.

Maintaining eligibility standards and managing these benefits may be more than your adult child with disabilities can manage. Identifying a reliable candidate and creating the structure that legally permits them to facilitate these programs is crucial to your child’s future well-being.

Many US military personnel have experienced serious physical and mental health problems since serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. A large percentage of these service members are unmarried and under thirty. For parents of veterans with disabilities, look into the Veterans Disability Compensation program.

There is also a benefits program for veterans with permanent disabilities, which is needs-based. The Veterans Disability Pension has eligibility requirements based on your adult child’s assets and income. A veterans specialist or disability attorney can create a special needs trust to ensure your adult child can qualify.

Many other government programs are available to help your adult child with disabilities have a successful future. A special needs attorney can explain more about discrimination protections outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Ticket to Work Program, and more.

Private Financial Resources

Parents of children with special needs have additional planning requirements to ensure the safety and success of their child’s life when they are no longer alive to oversee that child’s well-being. Creating a realistic strategy is key to success. Begin with creating a general framework with a special needs lawyer and then fill in the financial details. Financial resources may include life insurance policies and other investment strategies.such as funding an Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account. The cash flow these accounts create will allow your adult child to continue living a life of safety, purpose, and impact after you are gone.

Additionally, your lawyer can create a special needs trust appropriate for your family’s financial situation and child’s needs. This trust type provides additional monies to your adult child without them losing eligibility for government benefits. There are various special needs trust types, including:

  • Third-Party Special or Supplemental Needs Trust (SNT)
  • First-Party Special Needs Trust or Self-Settled SNT
  • Pooled Special Needs Trusts

Legal Needs

There are several legal tools that parents can use to create a lifelong plan for their adult child with disabilities, including:

  • Guardianship
  • Special Needs Trusts
  • Advance Health Care Directive
  • Durable Power of Attorney

It’s important to consult with an attorney who has experience with special needs and disability law. In order to determine the best option for your adult child’s future specific needs and situation.


Planning for your child with special needs is customized to your family circumstances and your child’s unique needs. Legal guidance is critical because missteps can lead to ineligibility for crucial government benefits programs. To provide for your child’s future success after you are gone, speak to a special needs or disability attorney and begin your proactive planning.

This article offers a summary of aspects of estate planning and elder law. It is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice, contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760.


Common Mistakes in Special Needs Planning

Common Mistakes in Special Needs Planning

Statistics show that 26% of American adults live with some form of disability–  more than you might think. However, federal and state benefits, such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), are available for persons with special needs. These benefits are “needs-based,” which means the amount of assets and income the beneficiary can have are very limited.

When planning for a loved one with special needs, you must ensure they don’t receive money or other assets thatcould cause disqualification from their government benefits. Here are some common mistakes in special needs planning.


Gifts of money or assets from well-intentioned family members or friends can disqualify a loved one with special needs from government benefits. This would cauwe their countable assets to exceed the acceptable limit. After getting disqualified, it can be difficult to requalify for benefits. It’s better to have gifts go to a special needs trust or a similar financial planning tool set up for the benefit of the recipient.


Some parents believe if they disinherit their child with special needs, that child’s siblings will help take care of them for the remainder of their life. This plan puts a lot of responsibility on the other siblings and can fall apart for many reasons. If the inheritance is in the siblings’ names, it could be lost due to divorce, lawsuits, bankruptcy, or irresponsible spending. Additionally, Louisiana’s forced heirship laws can foil such a plan. Forced heirship requires that a special needs child (or grandchild in some circumstances) must received a certain amount of a decedent’s estate after he or she dies.

Lack of a Trust

Failing to create a special needs trust for your loved one with special needs is a common mistake.  Government benefits are used for basic living expenses, such as housing, food, and medical care. Therefore, a person with special needs usually won’t have enough money for other expenses, such as travel and hobbies. Creating a special needs trust can make funds available for expenses that government benefits don’t cover.


Similar to gift-giving from family members and friends, donations from a crowdfunding campaign can negatively affect your loved one with special needs. By pushing their countable assets over the acceptable limit. If you want to create a crowdfunding campaign to benefit your loved one with special needs, find a way to keep the funds out of your loved one’s name. Again, a special needs trust could be a good option.

Consult an Attorney

The best way to avoid making mistakes that could cause your loved one with special needs to lose their government benefits is to consult with an attorney experienced in elder law and estate planning. They will be able to help you find the best solution for your particular situation.

Our law firm is dedicated to informing you of issues affecting persons with special needs. We help you and your loved ones plan for the best possible future. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

This article offers a summary of aspects of estate planning and elder law. It is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice, contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760.

Special Needs Trust Funding

Special Needs Trust Funding

Funding a special needs trust (SNT) properly ensures your assets get exactly where they need to be. The trustee can then distribute these assets to benefit your disabled loved one.

Before any special needs trust funding can happen, you must choose the type of trust that best suits the situation for your special needs child or adult. Retaining a special needs attorney is critical to carefully select a first- or third-party SNT based on maximizing available government program benefits and assessing future tax implications.

Establishing the Trust as a Legal Entity

In some instances, the first step to funding a special needs trust is establishing a taxpayer ID number from the IRS. Once set up, the trust is irrevocable. An exception to the EIN requirement is establishing a living trust and will, which becomes irrevocable upon the trust creator’s death requiring an EIN later. This nine-digit Employer Identification Number (EIN) acts like a social security number for the trust so that the IRS can identify the trust as a separate legal entity.

Funding the Trust

Funding options for a special needs trust are unique to each family situation. Money from a personal injury settlement can fund a first-party SNT trust (if you are under 65 years old), and any inheritance the beneficiary receives directly. However, upon the death of the disabled individual, these trusts have pay-back provisions for Medicaid.

A third-party special needs trust is written either during the creator’s lifetime (inter vivos) or as a testamentary trust accessed upon the creator’s death. An inter vivos trust allows other family members or friends to contribute to the trust before the trust creator’s death. Typically, third-party SNT funding includes inheritances, family savings, and other financial gifts, which can be invested in stocks or bonds for growth and to hedge against inflation. The trust can be self-sustaining with the proper investment decisions.

A family creating a special needs third-party trust may also consider funding through:


  • Survivorship or second-to-die life insurance policies can be a good funding choice as they tend to have less expensive premiums; however, they will not pay out until the second member of a couple dies. Domestic partners may also purchase coverage as you do not have to be legally married to buy a policy. Problems may occur if the remaining spouse or partner does not have enough cash flow to cover the family’s ongoing expenses from other sources. A survivorship insurance policy requires a close look at your retirement planning and other income sources, as well as funding a special needs trust.
  • Term life insurance is often another relatively inexpensive funding choice for a special needs trust. Term life insurance policies guarantee payouts during a specified period and typically cost less. You can renew these policies upon their expiration date, assuming you are not subject to significant health changes. Renewing term life insurance often means higher premiums as you age and if you encounter notable health changes.
  • Whole life insurance will cover your entire life span. The premiums you pay collect in an investment account that the insurance company invests to grow value. These premium costs are fixed.
  • Variable life insurance will also provide lifelong coverage; however, the policy cash value will fluctuate along with financial markets.

Real Estate

For a person with special needs, a family home may represent stability and routine, and living in that residence may be an important goal for continuity. Yet leaving the house in the name of your special needs loved one is often a big mistake as it affects means-tested government benefits. However, real estate in a third-party SNT can avert the Medicaid lien of a first-party trust upon their death and transfer to other beneficiaries instead.

If the special needs individual needs to move and sell the home, the sale proceeds will remain in the trust. If moving is not contingent upon selling the home, the SNT trustee can convert the property to a rental, producing income for the trust. In either case, it is important to have adequate trust funds to maintain a family home in the SNT.

Retirement Plans

Funding an SNT through retirement plans is complex. Without careful financial management, all the funds distributed to the trust’s beneficiary may be taxed during the transfer year. This situation may result in eligibility disqualification for government benefits and unnecessarily high taxes.

An exception is designating military survivor benefits to a special needs trust recently adopted through the Disabled Military Child Protection Act federal legislation. But, if your special needs trust receives funding from non-military retirement accounts, the SNT format should be an “accumulation trust,” which spaces out required minimum distributions. Additionally, any remainder beneficiaries (those entitled to remaining funds upon the death of the primary beneficiary) should ideally be younger than the primary beneficiary to avoid unintended distribution requirements.

Retirement accounts can negatively affect the intent of a special needs trust. Instead, many special needs attorneys or disability lawyers encourage draw downs on the retirement account to purchase life insurance for the SNT or leave their retirement funds to other heirs.

Getting Professional Advice

All funding options for a special needs trust require complicated decision-making. Before creating and funding an SNT, families should consult an attorney specializing in financial planning and special needs law. Understanding tax regulations, insurance options, and benefits laws are crucial to creating a trust that addresses the family’s goals for the future security of their loved one. Proactive planning with a special needs attorney can protect your loved one’s government benefits and provide additional assets through a properly funded special needs trust. For assistance, please contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760.

There is No Need to Disinherit Your Special Needs Child for Benefit Protection

Special Needs Child for Benefit Protection

The futures of children with special needs are at risk because of the unique challenges and opportunities they face. There is no need to disinherit your special needs child for benefit protection. Appropriate medical, educational, recreational, and employment opportunities for your special needs child can result in a lifetime of pursuing public and private programs and services. Too often, the parents or persons responsible for financial and medical management of the special needs child receive misguided advice to disinherit them.

Who Qualifies as Special Needs?

The term “special needs” refers to the clinical and functional development of individuals requiring assistance for medical, psychological, or mental disabilities. For government benefits programs, special needs are a part of the larger category of disability. Special needs diagnoses are considered disabilities, but not all disabilities are special needs. Maintaining your child’s qualification for government disability benefits can be done through estate planning strategies. You do not necessarily need to disinherit your special needs child to preserve them.

How Does Inheritance Affect Government Benefits?

Directing assets to the child can result in their inheritable assets and income levels exceeding allowable levels, making them ineligible for public assistance. This problem can make parents decide not to provide the same level of inheritance as they would for other children. It is a painful decision to make. However, There is no need to disinherit your special needs child for benefit protection. Other methods exist to provide inheritance and protect government benefits with careful planning.

Estate Planning Solutions

The proper creation of a special needs or supplemental needs trust can help the child without jeopardizing eligibility requirements for government disability benefits. Public benefits have specific spending designations that cover shelter, food, clothing, and transportation. The monies from a special needs trust are designed to improve the child’s overall quality of life but are spendable only in certain categories.

The trust money can’t be used for housing, food expenditures, or other financial needs that government benefits meet. Instead, it is used to pay caretakers, out-of-pocket medical expenses, some transportation, educational expenses, recreation, vacations, and more. There is no need to disinherit your special needs child for benefit protection. A disability planning attorney can design your special needs trust to comply with the specific rules of the beneficiary’s public benefits program.

How Does a Trust Work?

Determining how to fund a special needs trust depends on your financial situation. Life insurance policies are a popular choice, as are income-producing assets that increase the trust’s future bottom line. How much to fund the trust also depends on your financial situation. A broad list of your special needs child’s expenses to consider include:

  • Housing
  • Medical care
  • Care assistance
  • Special equipment
  • Education and or employment costs
  • Personal needs
  • Future asset replacement costs like a car, furnishings, etc.

Some of these broader expense categories will fall to government benefits spending and others to the special needs trust. To avoid providing monies for categories that can affect eligibility for government benefits like SSI and Medicaid, do not pay for the following expenses with special needs trust funds:

  • Rent or mortgage payments
  • Essential food and groceries (the occasional restaurant outing is permissible)
  • Direct gifts of cash to the beneficiary for any purpose
  • Property taxes
  • Condo or homeowner association dues
  • Mortgage required homeowner’s insurance
  • Utilities and other hook-up or connection charges

Who Owns or Controls the Trust

Often, the parents choose to be the trustee(s) of the special needs trust until they become incapacitated or pass away. An alternate or backup trustee with expertise in managing trusts who can pay bills and taxes, keep accounts, and make sound investments is crucial to designate. The parents may also choose to designate a professional trustee for the same purpose.

Sometimes, to alleviate any discomfort with an outsider managing their child’s needs, the parents opt for a professional and family member as co-trustees. A trustee can also hire a trust protector who is given the legal power to review accounts and fire and hire trustees, or a trust advisor who will inform the trustee of the beneficiary’s needs. A special needs planning lawyer can help you to assess if these additional oversights are necessary.

Parents and other decision-making individuals using a special needs trust have the means to treat their special needs child similarly to other children. While different types of trusts are unique to protect government disability benefits, the child will be able to inherit as a trust beneficiary. Once the special needs trust has served its purpose, any remaining assets can be divided among surviving family members. Even fund the organizations instrumental in the special needs child’s care.

If you prefer, you can designate a charity to receive the remaining principle as a form of legacy gift, perpetuating your child’s memory. A disability or estate planning attorney knows how to create a special trust to meet your child’s needs and financial goals while protecting your child’s government benefits. There is no need to disinherit your special needs child for benefit protection. For assistance, please contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760.