What is a Life Plan and do you need to build one for the Special Needs person in your life?
The answers to these two questions are simple. First, a Life Plan is merely a plan that will provide the right people in your life the instructions, the support group, and the resources to carry your Special Needs loved one through their lifetime after you are gone. Second, if you have a family member with a disability of any kind, then yes, you need to build a Life Plan for them.
Think of a Life Plan as a form of transportation with three specific components: the vehicle, the driver, and the fuel to make it go. Building your Life Plan is literally joining these three components together and creating a system for the future care of your loved one.
First, you need a vehicle that will carry your loved one through their lifetime after you are no longer around. This vehicle is simply your legal instructions to future caregivers. Your specific instructions on how you want your loved one to be taken care of in the future are derived from the legal documents within your estate plan. Your legal documents include your Last Will and Testament, Living Trusts, Powers of Attorney, etc. However, critical for a family with a Special Needs individual is to have a Special Needs Trust. A Special Needs Trust is your foremost vehicle and can be created while you are alive or could be written within your Last Will and Testament to be created upon your death. Either way, the Special Needs Trust is designed to be for the benefit and protection of your Special Needs loved one and must be considered when creating your Life Plan.
Secondarily, although not specifically a legal document drafted by your attorney in your estate plan, you should have a set of Caregiver Instructions that lists all the details on who the Special Needs person is, what they like and dislike, how you hope they will be cared for, and where you envision them to be in the future. This important document should also be a part of your Life Plan.
Who is going to operate the vehicle described above? You need competent drivers that understand the instructions you have created and know how to implement these instructions. Generally, the drivers are the people that make up your circle of support for your Special Needs loved one. They include caregivers, family members, trustees, professional advisors, friends, and anyone else that will play an important role in the life of your loved one. With a Special Needs Trust, all of the people involved will coordinate through your chosen trustee. The trustee is ultimately responsible for disbursements, taxes, accounting, investments and maintaining benefits for your loved one. Occasionally, the trustee is a family member; however, being the trustee is an enormous job and may put a burden on the relationship between this person and your Special Needs loved one. Therefore, we suggest you consider a professional corporate fiduciary to serve as the trustee. A professional can provide the expertise, experience, and knowledge to do the job right and be able to drive the vehicle with precision and absolute care.
Finally, do you have enough funds to care for your loved one for the rest of their life? The money that will fuel your vehicle (fund the Special Needs Trust and your Life Plan) is a critical component of your plan. Depending on your loved ones medical condition, life expectancy, ability to generate income, and their expected living expenses, you will need to determine how much money is needed to fund their future needs. The difference between the overall needs of the individual and any current or future expected resources (government benefits) they may have available will provide you an indication of how much fuel is required to adequately run your plan. Your fuel will come from a variety of sources (retirement plans, life insurances, current home, etc.) and it is wise to make sure you have the funds needed to care for your loved one’s future.
Build Your Plan.
We have designed a great platform on this website to help you build your own Life Plan. The instructions, checklists, and forms are all available to any active member of this site. Check out our membership levels and consider signing up today. Building a plan will give you the peace of mind you deserve in preparing for the future of your Special Needs loved one.
Some of the images above are from FreeDigitalPhotos.net