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Estate Planning For a Child With Special Needs: Three Tools You Need to Know

A mother and father pose for a photo on a bridge with their teenaged daughter and younger son in a wheelchair

As a parent of a child with special needs, you are well aware of the unique challenges that come with caring for your child's care. You are an expert on their preferences, routines, skills, and challenges. However, when it comes to securing their future, legal planning can seem overwhelming. You may wonder what tools are the right ones to ensure your child’s unique needs are always met.

The good news is that there are a number of estate planning tools available to help you protect your child's interests and provide for their needs, both now and in the future. Even better, these tools can be customized to suit the level of care your child requires, regardless of their level of independence or functioning. Here are three essential tools that every parent of a child with special needs should consider.

01 | Ensuring A Lifetime Of Care Through Guardianship

Without proper legal planning, you lose the ability to make decisions for your child when he or she turns 18. Guardianship is a legal relationship ordered by a court that gives someone the authority to make decisions for their adult child if they are not able to do so for themselves. With court Guardianship, you can name yourself or someone you trust to have the authority to make decisions about your child's medical care, education, living arrangements, and more.

Guardianship is a crucial tool for parents of a child with special needs and is absolutely necessary if your child has challenges that prevent them from making decisions or taking care of themselves independently. Guardianship is an important step in ensuring that your child's needs are always met.

Why You Shouldn’t Wait Until Your Child is Near Adulthood

Even if your child isn’t near the age of adulthood, it’s important to nominate a legal Guardian now in the event that you pass away or become incapacitated before your child turns 18. Without your nomination, your child may be left without the care of someone you trust, and the decision of who will care for your child will be up to a court that doesn’t know your child or their unique needs. Thankfully, we’re experienced in nominating Guardians for minors and adults, and can walk you through the process of nominating a Guardian now, and how to finalize that nomination when your child nears adulthood. We can also help you name short-term legal Guardians who can care for your child on a short-term basis if you’re traveling or in the event of an emergency.

02 | Be There For Your Child with Powers of Attorney

While not appropriate for all people with special needs, Powers of Attorney are another important legal tool for parents. Whether your adult child is neurotypical or has special needs, it’s important that you retain some ability to make decisions for them in case they ask for your help or aren’t able to make decisions on their own.

If your child is high-functioning and able to live independently, Powers of Attorney may be an appropriate tool to support their care. Through Powers of Attorney, your adult child can grant you the ability to make financial or medical decisions for them, such as scheduling doctors' appointments, paying bills, or signing a rental agreement. Your child can also choose whether these powers make it possible for you to act on their behalf at any time or only in the event of their incapacity. Plus, Powers of Attorney can be customized to meet your child's specific needs and wishes, ensuring that their care and well-being are always a top priority while still respecting their autonomy and independence.

03 | Protect Your Child’s Financial Future with a Special Needs Trust

Finally, every parent of a child with special needs should consider creating a Special Needs Trust to protect their child’s financial security. This type of Trust is designed to provide extra financial support for your child while ensuring that they remain eligible for much-needed government benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). In fact, giving money directly to a child with special needs can actually cause them to lose their government benefits unless that money is provided to them through a Special Needs Trust.

A Special Needs Trust can be used to pay for a wide range of needs, including living expenses, household items, health care, and more. And, even better, a Special Needs Trust can be drafted so that you incentivize the people you’ve named as Guardians to care for your child the way you are currently caring for them. For example, you may include instructions to financially reward caregivers who take your child to dinner or the movies, so caregivers are properly motivated to provide the kind of care you would naturally, but others may not after you are gone. Knowing you’ve provided financial incentives for your child to have companionship and care is something many of our clients deeply appreciate.

Ensuring Your Child Is Eligible For Government Aid

In order for your child to remain eligible for government aid while receiving funds from a Special Needs Trust, the Trust must follow a set of regulations and reporting requirements that vary by state and can be difficult to understand. That's why it's crucial to work with us, your Personal Family Lawyer® firm, to develop a Special Needs Trust that meets these requirements while being perfectly suited to your child's unique needs.

Your Trusted Advisor When Planning for a Child with Special Needs

We understand that every child with special needs is different, and that's why we offer a personalized approach and a comprehensive range of estate planning services, including Special Needs Trusts and legal Guardianship nominations, to create a plan that’s unique to your child. If you aren’t sure where to start or what your child may need now and in the future, contact us today. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we’ll walk you through your unique situation and develop a plan that ensures your child with special needs has the physical, financial, and emotional support they need now and for years to come.

To learn more, contact Sharek Law Office at 412-347-1731 or click here to schedule a complimentary 15-Minute Call.


This article is a service of Sharek Law Office, LLC. 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 Life and Legacy 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 Life and Legacy Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. Please note this is educational content only and is not intended to act as legal advice.

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