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Estate Planning

Introduction

Parents and guardians that have children with special needs must plan with care so that income and assets can be used in the best interest of their child. With careful legal and financial planning, parents can make sure that their children have a good quality of life as time goes on. Proper planning will allow your child to have the services he needs, such as Social Security (SSI) and Medicaid, without being penalized for having assets from sources such as a gift from family or income from a lawsuit.
Writing a will, setting up a trust, and finding answers to hard questions about finances can ease worries about your child’s future. Getting started can be the hardest part. We suggest that you begin by talking to a professional financial planner and/or a lawyer who has experience working with parents of children with special needs. An expert will be able to give you advice about a "Special Needs Trust" and will know the challenges, rules, and details of Medicare, SSI, guardianship, and other issues of concern for you and your family.
We hope this page will help you start to build familiarity with all that goes into planning for your child’s long-term future.

What is involved in Estate Planning?

Talk to a financial planner and/or a lawyer
  • Many law firms and life insurance companies have special needs consultants.
  • Make sure to find one who is skilled in special needs trusts and planning.
Write a letter of intent
  • Some parents have found it helpful to write a draft letter of intent, or simply jot down their concerns before meeting with a planner or lawyer to write the letter of intent.
Establish guardianship (and successors)
  • A Guardianship is a legal relationship in which a person is designated by law to make choices for another person.
  • The guardian is appointed by a judge to act in support of someone who cannot manage his or her own affairs.
  • Guardianships are often thought of as something for children, as they cannot make legal decisions for themselves, but guardianships also can be used to protect adults with disabilities.
  • If you are planning to care for your child after they turn age 18, you will need to set up guardianship.
  • Talk with a special needs consultant about guardianship choices. .
Consider your child's financial needs
Set up a Special Needs Trust
  • Special Needs Trusts are also called “supplemental care trusts.”
  • The trust lets you maintain your child's financial wellbeing and her eligibility for government assistance, but also lets you save money for her future without worrying about the asset rules of Medicaid or SSI.
  • An expert lawyer/planner will know the best choices for your child's individual needs and is needed when setting up a special needs trust .

Resources

Information & Support

For Parents and Patients

Financial Planning for Kids with Special Needs
Offers details about financial planning specific to special needs, including ten steps to planning your child's financial future. The site also translates to Spanish.

Special Needs Alliance
This is a national nonprofit organization of member attorneys who work regularly with planning for special needs. The site has up to date content and a “search for an attorney” tool.

The Pacer Center Special Needs Trusts
An explanation of a Special Needs Trust. Site content is created by parents for parents.

The Pacer Center Guardianship (Conservatorship)
An explanation of guardianship (conservatorship), a legal arrangement in which you or a trusted adult you select is given the right to make decisions for your child.

Financial Planning Mistakes Special Needs Families Should Avoid
Gives advice about things parents might not think of when planning, including seven mistakes to avoid.

Services in Montana

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Estate & Future Planning

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Guardianship

See all Guardianship services providers (1) in our database.

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Authors & Reviewers

Initial Publication: July 2014; Last Update: November 2018
Current Authors and Reviewers (click on name for bio):
Author: Tina Persels
Reviewers: Shena McAuliffe, MFA
Gina Pola-Money