Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Increased Need for Special Needs Trust Planning

There is no doubt that the need for special needs planning is increasing. Just look at these statistics:

  • In 1992, there were 15,580 children ages 6-22 who were diagnosed as having what is now called an Autism spectrum disorder. In 2006, the number was 224,594.
  • In 2006, there were an estimated 24.9 million adults in the United States with serious psychological distress.
  • Approximately 4.4 % of U.S. adults may have some form of bipolar disorder during some point in their lifetime.
  • In 2006, an estimated 22.6 million people in the U.S. (9.2% of the population age 12 or older) were substance dependent or abusive in the previous year.

Almost every family has at least one member (child, grandchild, nephew, niece, parent, grandparent) who will always need help managing personal care and/or finances. And since most of these conditions do not decrease life expectancy, many families are seeking answers on how to provide the best quality of life for their loved ones for the rest of their lives . . . which could, for a young child, be 70 years or longer.

Fewer Programs Are Available
At the same time that the need for support services is increasing, government and non-government programs are being reduced and even eliminated due to the strain on state budgets, competition among entitlement programs, and pressures to reduce deficit spending. Once a program is cut, it may be difficult if not impossible to restore it in the future.

Families Are Motivated
Even families who are using them now do not trust that the programs that are benefitting their special loved one will be there to provide the needed benefits in the future. They are wisely (and fearfully) looking at alternatives to provide those services. Common concerns are:

  • Who will care for my loved one when I am gone?
  • Who will be my loved one's advocate?
  • Where will my loved one live?
  • How much independence can be maintained?
  • Will the money last for my loved one's lifetime?
Preserving Government Benefit Entitlement
Are government benefits for a special needs person worth preserving? For families of lesser means, the answer is almost always, "Yes, absolutely!" For more affluent families, however, maybe not.

It may be better to privatize the special needs person's care instead of spending thousands of dollars to protect a few hundreds in benefits that may not be available in the future. In the past, many practitioners focused exclusively on preserving public benefits at all costs. Today, special needs planning is not necessarily "poverty planning." The proper focus today is, on a case-by-case basis, how to provide the best quality of life throughout the life of the loved one.

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