I'm putting to bed an article on conservatorship for EP Magazine this week. I've been speaking with financial planners and lawyers about the dire consequences of not making provisions, in the form of wills and special trusts, for mentally and physically disabled children.
Many if not most parents are unaware that as little as $2000 left to a child in an ordinary trust or bank account disqualifies that child for government benefits. Parents who name a special needs child as beneficiary of an insurance policy, put a child's name on a mortgage, or establish a savings account in the child's name might as well be ripping the money into little pieces and flushing it down the toilet, for all the good it will do the child.
Money put in a special needs trust, on the other hand, may be used to supplement Medicaid, Social Security, disability benefits, and other forms of government aid designed to provide only the bare essentials to a special needs individual. Unfortunately, the families of special needs children live from crisis to crisis, their foremost concern being the health and well-being of those children. They're so overwhelmed with the urgent needs of the moment that they can't find the time to educate themselves about the future. If the unthinkable happens and they die or themselves become disabled, the assets may be lost; the child's future determined by the courts, and far from the parents' vision.
One experienced insurance agent told me that he advises all his clients establishing trusts to include provisional special needs language. "No one knows when a disability can strike," he told me. "It can't hurt. If it's not needed, there's no damage." He talked about wills, powers of attorney, and so on and on.
I myself don't have a pot to piss in. So why bother with a will? If I drop dead, there'll be nothing to carve up, and noone unable to care for himself with me not around. But I'm beginning to see that dying isn't the frightening thing. It's almost-but-not-quite dying that's the bummer.