Individuals with special needs require specific planning tools.  If any of your heirs or beneficiaries have special needs due to a disability, without careful planning any gift or inheritance left to them can cause them to lose important government benefits, or leave them exposed to people who will take their assets or take advantage of them. Without proper advanced planning, even a small inheritance (anything over $2000) left to your child can have dire consequences.  Your child can be disqualified for SSI or Medicaid until they have spent all the money and may have to wait to re-qualify.  Thus, the inheritance you intended to benefit your child may actually hurt them.  With proper advanced planning you can prevent this outcome, as well as designate someone to watch over your child’s best interests. In Georgia, the law allows you to protect assets while providing for an individual with special needs.  You can create a Special Needs Trust, also known as a Supplemental Needs Trust.  This third party settled trust must contain specific language to protect the assets in the Trust from the claims of creditors and government agencies, while protecting the individual’s entitlement to public benefits. Public benefits only provide a subsistence level of care, special needs planning allows you to provide additional life enhancing benefits which would otherwise disqualify an individual from public benefits.  Through special needs planning you can provide for housing, advocacy, social activities, supervision, protection, care management, travel, recreation, entertainment, family contact, hopes, dreams, aspirations, and quality of life. Special Needs Trusts are a critical component of your estate planning if you have disabled beneficiaries for whom you wish to provide for after your passing.  Generally, Special Needs Trusts are either stand alone trusts funded with a separate asset like a life insurance policy or it can be a sub-trust in your existing living trust. 

As a parent, family member, or a friend of a disabled adult (18 or over) you may have to decide whether a guardianship or conservatorship is needed for your loved one.  Trying to reach that conclusion may be the most difficult part of the process. But you must make plans before you need it as you don’t know when the guardianship or conservatorship will be needed.  For a guardianship or conservatorship to be established the court must determine first, that the proposed ward is incapacitated.  The legal definition would be that the proposed ward cannot make or communicate significant responsible decisions concerning their health, safety, welfare, or finances, and there are no powers of attorney in effect, then it may be necessary to establish a guardianship or conservatorship for that incapacitated adult with a disability.

 The Chattooga County Navigator Team is pleased to sponsor a Lunch & Learn Series: Special Needs Planning and Guardianship on Saturday, November 15, 2008 from 11:00