April is Autism Awareness Month and The Ultimate Estate Planner, Inc. has teamed up our fellow colleague, Thomas D. Begley, Jr. and the Begley Law Group, P.C., based out of New Jersey, to help spread awareness for this very special cause.
A recent report released by the Centers for Disease Control shows a drastic increase in autism diagnoses. One in every 88 children in the United States is diagnosed with a form of autism spectrum disorder, an increase of 78% since 2002. Boys with autism continue to outnumber girls at a rate of 5 to 1.
Since this is such a prevalent disorder that touches so much of the population, it is necessary to ensure that safeguards are in place for your loved one affected by autism.
If, upon reaching age 18, an autistic individual has sufficient capacity, he or she can, and ought to, execute documents, including a will, living will, and powers of attorney. These documents will name a loved one to act as an agent, if necessary, regarding emergency medical decisions as well as routine financial and personal decisions.
For an individual with insufficient capacity, a guardianship will be necessary. Once a child turns 18, the parents no longer retain the legal right to make the decisions that they have been making up to that point. In many cases, the guardianship process can be simple for parents of children on the autism spectrum, but it is still essential in order to ensure that safeguards are in place for the child.
It is also important for parents of children with autism to make sure that their own wills name choices for a successor guardian for their child.
SPECIAL NEEDS TRUSTS
Most parents worry about the well-being of their children once both spouses have passed away. A parent's or grandparent's concern about their loved ones is especially well-founded for special needs children. Leaving an inheritance outright to a child with special needs will jeopardize his or her eligibility for governmental benefits. For example, in order to receive Medicaid benefits, an individual cannot have more than $2,000 of countable assets in his or her name.
In order to rectify this issue, parents and loved ones often establish a third party special needs trust, which is a mechanism through which funds can be made available in order to enhance quality of life while still allowing the child to remain on government benefits. A special needs trust supplements public benefits, such as Medicaid and SSI, without jeopardizing eligibility. The trustee has absolute discretion to expend funds from the trust to purchase things for your child that are not otherwise covered by Medicaid.
It is extremely important to inform relatives about the existence of this special needs trust. Grandparents and other relatives can make lifetime gifts or leave inheritances directly to the child's trust in order to make sure that benefits are preserved.
Even if you are not personally affected by autism, please join us at The Ultimate Estate Planner, Inc. and the Begley Law Group, P.C., along with millions of other advocates, to continue to spread awareness about autism spectrum disorders and the importance of looking at the special planning needed for these individuals.
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Source & Photo Credit: Begley Law Group, P.C., Susan M. Green, Esq.