Step 6 — Apply for government benefits.
Government benefits — such as Medicaid and Social Security (www.ssa.gov) — may help provide for your dependent’s needs in the form of medical treatments and supplies, equipment, financial assistance and more. Visit your local Social Security Office to find out what benefits your dependent may qualify for; call or visit their website first to find out what documents you should have with you for your visit.
Step 7 — Prepare your Last Will and Testament (review and update periodically).
A Will declares how you want your estate to be distributed and allows you to select a guardian for your dependent when you pass away. It may be especially important to prevent automatic asset distributions directly to a person with special needs, and to be cognizant to not leave your dependent with special needs any assets in excess of $2,000 (as discussed in number two above). Speak to your attorney for additional information.
Step 8 — Consider setting up a special needs trust.
This allows caregivers a way to provide for their dependent’s care and quality of life, without disqualifying them for federal assistance. Trusts can be set up either funded or unfunded, and must be overseen by a trustee — often the dependent’s caregiver and/or a bank trust officer. Funds can be contributed gradually over the years, or the trust can be designated as a beneficiary of an inheritance or life insurance policy. The money in the trust must be used to enhance the dependent with special needs quality of life, and can help to supplement standard services and benefits provided by government agencies. Speak to an attorney experienced in special needs planning for more information.
Step 9 — Apply for guardianship and conservatorship, if applicable.
Caregivers must apply for a guardianship or conservatorship to maintain legal control over financial and healthcare decisions once a dependent reaches the age of 18. This can take up to a year in some states, so it’s maybe best to start this process early. There are different levels of guardianship and conservatorship available, depending on the dependent’s capabilities and needs. For example, a limited guardianship could be solely for financial or healthcare-related decisions.
Step 10 — Prepare a Letter of Intent.
Although not legally binding, this document is important for providing direction for the person or persons who will care for your dependent with special needs and should be stored with other vital documents, such as your Will. Thinks of it as a “letter to the caregiver” — it can cover day-to-day care routines such as what medical assistance is needed, as well as quality of life guidance such as what entertainment and activities should be provided. Would they live in a group home or need their own space?
Thank you to Kelly Piacenti, Assistant Vice President at MassMutual, for sharing these tips with us! Check out our previous post for tips 1-5.