Families with a child or other loved one with special needs face unique challenges when planning for their future care and well-being. A Wilmington special needs planning lawyer can provide invaluable guidance to ensure your special needs trust meets legal requirements while providing for their needs.
At Donaldson Law Firm, our estate planning attorney has extensive experience helping Wilmington area families plan for their child’s lifelong care through the use of special needs trusts and other supplemental needs tools. Let us help you plan a bright future for the ones you love. Contact us today for a consultation.
What is Special Needs Planning?
Special needs planning refers to creating a comprehensive estate plan that accounts for the disability-related needs of a beneficiary. This planning ensures the beneficiary can maintain eligibility for needs-based government benefits while also providing additional resources not covered by public assistance programs.
Some of the most essential planning tools a special needs planning attorney may recommend include:
- Special Needs Trusts: Trusts created to supplement government benefits without affecting eligibility. They are funded with the beneficiary’s assets and may be structured in various ways.
- ABLE Accounts: Tax-advantaged savings accounts for disability-related expenses. Earnings are not counted against SSI limits.
- Guardianship: Grants a third-party legal authority to care for a disabled person. Less restrictive alternatives should be considered first.
- Letter of Intent: Provides guidance on caring for the beneficiary to future caregivers. Details like dislikes, routines, etc.
Special needs planning can happen at any stage of a person’s life, but it’s most advisable when your child or family member is diagnosed with a disability, the beneficiary nears the age of maturity (18 in most states), or you want to set up tax-advantaged savings with an ABLE account.
What Does a Special Needs Planning Lawyer Do?
If you have a loved one with special needs, you likely want to ensure they are taken care of both now and in the future. This is where a special needs planning lawyer can help. These lawyers address the unique legal needs of individuals with disabilities and their families.
Here are some of the key things a special needs planning lawyer can do:
- Draft a Special Needs Trust – This is a trust designed to provide funds for a person with disabilities without affecting their eligibility for government benefits like Medicaid and SSI. The lawyer will customize the trust according to the beneficiary’s situation.
- Assist with Guardianship/Conservatorship – The lawyer can help family members legally establish guardianship and/or conservatorship to manage care and finances for a disabled individual. This involves court procedures.
- Create a Letter of Intent – This important document outlines instructions, wishes, and information for future caregivers. The lawyer will formalize the letter and ensure it conveys the parents’ wishes.
- Provide Guidance on Government Benefits – The rules around government benefits like Medicaid and SSI can be complex. The lawyer will advise families on how to maintain eligibility.
- Develop an Estate Plan – This involves documents like a special needs trust, wills, powers of attorney, and more to protect the disabled individual’s interests now and in the future after their parents are gone.
- Offer General Legal Advice – On any legal issue related to disabilities, the lawyer can provide knowledgeable advice tailored to the specific situation.
Having a lawyer well-versed in elder law and disability planning is invaluable for special needs families. They have the expertise to create customized plans that provide for the child while maintaining government benefits. This provides parents with peace of mind.
How Special Needs Trusts Work in Wilmington, NC
One of the core elements of most special needs plans is establishing a special needs trust (sometimes called a supplemental needs trust). This legal arrangement allows assets to be used for expenses while maintaining eligibility for public benefits.
There are several types of special needs trusts with differing requirements:
- Third-party Trusts – Funded with assets from someone other than the beneficiary, like parents, relatives, or friends. The beneficiary has no control.
- First-party Trusts – Funded with assets that belong to the beneficiary, like an inheritance or settlement. More restrictions apply.
- Pooled Trusts – Administered by a nonprofit that pools funds from many beneficiaries. An option if you lack your own funding source.
In North Carolina, properly created special needs trusts allow expenses to be paid for without reducing SSI or Medicaid benefits. The trusts can be used to pay for supplementary items like specialized therapies, transportation, housing, caregiver services, and more – improving quality of life beyond just basic needs.
Creating an Effective Special Needs Plan in Wilmington, NC
Here is an overview of the step-by-step process our attorney uses to create comprehensive special needs plans for North Carolina families:
- Initial Consultation – We meet with you to understand your child’s disability, current/future needs, and goals. We’ll also discuss your financial situation and wishes.
- Document Drafting – Based on your unique circumstances, we’ll determine the appropriate trusts, wills, guardianship plans, and supplemental documents to put in place.
- Review Meeting – We’ll walk through the drafted documents together, explaining each provision and making any desired edits.
- Signing Meeting – You’ll sign the finalized legal documents to put your plan into effect. We’ll provide you copies along with filing/funding instructions.
- Follow-Up Guidance – Even after signing, we provide ongoing support to assist with implementing the plan, from benefit enrollment to funding trusts.
- Periodic Reviews – We meet annually or whenever a major life change occurs to re-evaluate and amend your plan as needed.
With decades of combined experience, our Wilmington special needs and estate planning lawyer has the skills to protect your child’s best interests. We take time to understand your family’s needs and provide responsive legal guidance.
Our firm assists families across North Carolina and can help you or a loved one get started with special needs planning.
Let’s Craft a Custom Plan for Your Child’s Future
If you’re a parent of a child with special needs in the Wilmington area, you likely stay awake at night worrying about their care and financial security once you’re gone. It’s hard to plan for the future when you’re busy with today’s demands. But you don’t have to figure it out alone.
At Donaldson Law, we understand your concerns and can help craft a customized plan just for your child. With years of serving Wilmington families, we know how to safeguard your child’s eligibility for essential government benefits while still providing supplemental funds to enhance their quality of life.
Don’t leave it up to chance. Schedule a consultation today, and let’s get started on a strategic special needs plan that will give you peace of mind. Your child’s future depends on it.