If you are a parent of a person with special needs there may come a time when you are no
longer able to care for your child. You are, of course, concerned about your child's future
including management of finances, residential arrangements, and other appropriate guidance
that your child may need.
Planning for your child's special needs is a necessity, not a luxury. Each child is unique
and planning for a child with special needs should be tailored to each child's uniqueness. As a
parent of a person with special needs you know first hand the responsibilities and burdens that
come with the care of your child. The quality of your child's life, and indeed the burdens
ultimately placed on your other surviving family members depends on your well-developed
estate and financial plan, tailored to serve your child's and your family's best interests.
As obvious as the need for a well-developed plan may be, many families still fail to
adequately plan perhaps due to procrastination or inadequate and inconsistent planning
information. If you fail to plan, your disabled child will inherit at least part of your estate and will
probably require an estate guardianship and the accompanying court supervision over the
Your legal options are a function of your child's needs with respect to future care, services,
programs, and government benefits. A personalized plan for an individual with special needs
requires a thorough understanding of the nature and extent of the disability. Therefore you
must first obtain a comprehensive professional evaluation of your child's disabilities including
physical, medical, social, emotional, educational, and service needs. Attorneys and financial
planners are able to provide a better service to their clients if they understand the nature of
the disability and the concerns of the parents.
Disabilities, other than physical disability, include mental illness and developmental
disability. Mental illness is a confusing and often misunderstood disability. It can appear
suddenly and can cause erratic behavior in a person. Mental illness may not be curable, but it
can be controlled with counseling and medication. Schizophrenia, clinical depression, and
manic depression are some of the more commonly known mental illnesses. Schizophrenia may
cause symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations, and inappropriate behavior. Depression,
may be caused by chemical changes affecting the brain resulting in severe mood swings, lack
of control over emotions, and suicidal tendencies.
Today, more than ever, there are a larger number of Americans who are physically and/or
mentally disabled. A reason for this may be that medical advances have allowed more children
born with disabilities to live longer lives. Such advances have assisted adults with disabilities to
live longer lives, as well.
The planning requirements of people with special needs are always changing. In the past,
people with mental disabilities were housed in large, state-run institutions. They were often
ignored or disowned by their families. Today many people with disabilities live in their
community and with their families.
Some disabilities are acquired during one's lifetime through disease or injuries. Examples
of such disabilities include: Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease,
disability resulting from a stroke, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Cystic Fibrosis, brain injury,
Guillain-Barre Syndrome, multiple sclerosis, or Tourette Syndrome.
Developmental disabilities are disabilities a person may be born with. Developmental
disabilities may also exist in a person who has a chronic, physical, and medical condition that
manifested itself before the person attained the age of 22 years old. Individuals with such a
disability often are severely limited in self-care, language skills, learning ability, mobility, and
ability for self-sufficiency. These individuals require special care and treatment that may be
needed for their entire life. Some of the commonly recognized developmental disabilities are
mental retardation, autism, and cerebral palsy.