Ask the Advisor: Estate Planning for Your Special Needs Child

Making sure your family is protected if something happens to you is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.

By Dennis Mollison

Dennis has more than a decade of financial experience, including five years as a financial planner with AXA Advisors, and several years trading as a commodities broker before joining the SchoolsFirst FCU team. He is a fully registered and licensed investment and retirement planning professional.

Making sure your family is protected if something happens to you is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. And if you have a special needs child, there are specific things you’ll need to consider to ensure they are provided for after you’re gone. Don’t know where to start? As a licensed financial advisor with SchoolsFirst FCU, I’ve helped many people establish financial goals, which includes creating an estate plan. This plan is a legal roadmap that provides specific instructions for how you want your money and property to be distributed, while protecting your loved ones from paying an undue amount of taxes on these assets. And you’ll want instructions in place so your special needs child gets all the help they deserve.

Our team of advisors is here to answer all of your questions, and provide a variety of estate planning and investing resources to help you plan wisely and steer clear of potential legal complications. Of course, everyone’s personal circumstances are different, and the sooner you start planning for the future the better. At the very least, you will need a will, which includes appointing a guardian or conservator for your child and their property. Creating a legal conservatorship or guardianship is a court procedure which designates you as the legal decision maker and then who succeeds you in that role if you are no longer able to.  An estate lawyer can help you navigate this process, which must be done before your child’s 18th birthday. Another useful tool to develop is a Letter of Intent to accompany your will. While it isn’t a legal document, the letter can provide specific instructions and insights to how you’d like your child to be cared for. This letter should be very personal and include details about your child’s unique traits, as well as their medical and emotional needs, to help your guardian become an able caretaker.

There are a few financial and legal solutions you may also want to consider. The first is a special needs trust. Why? If your child receives government assistance such as Medicare benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), leaving them a sum of money or property could jeopardize their eligibility for such programs. With a special needs trust, a trustee is appointed to use the money in the trust to pay for things like personal care attendants, education, travel and additional health care that isn’t provided by Medicare.

There’s also a relatively new way to save money for your special needs child that can be part of your overarching financial plan. It’s called an Achieving a Better Life (ABLE) account. It works like a 529 College Savings account, but instead of being used for higher education expenses, the funds are earmarked for disability expenses. If used correctly, the savings won’t jeopardize a child’s Medicare and SSI benefits. An advisor can help you learn more about these accounts and see if one is right for you.

While you can create a simple will without a lawyer, you’ll definitely need a lawyer for a special needs trust. If you don’t know one who focuses specifically on special needs estate planning, you can get a recommendation from the Special Needs Alliance, a nonprofit organization designed to help people with disabilities and their families. The Special Needs Alliance also provides advice about how to apply for public benefits, creating special needs trusts, special needs educational resources, guardianship and powers of attorney. Another valuable resource is Members Trust Company, which is owned and managed by not-for-profit credit unions. The company offers a variety of educational resources, financial advice and other services to help you invest and plan wisely for your future.


This blog is not intended to provide legal or tax advice. For legal or tax advice, please consult your attorney or tax professional.

Trust Services offered through Members Trust Company, a federal thrift regulated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Trust products are not credit union deposits, are not insured by the NCUA or any federal government agency, are not obligations of or guaranteed by the credit union, Members Trust Company or any affiliated entity, and involve investment risks, including the possible loss of principal.

Securities sold, advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor.  CBSI is under contract with SchoolsFirst Federal CU to make securities available to members.  Not NCUA/NCUSIF/FDIC insured, May Lose Value, No Financial Institution Guarantee.  Not a deposit of any financial institution.  CBSI is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.


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Extra Credit provides general information to help improve our Member’s financial lives. Every situation is different, so please contact us for guidance on your specific needs. The advice provided in Extra Credit is not intended to serve as a substitute for speaking to a loan representative, financial advisor, or BALANCE counselor who can help tailor a solution for you.

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