Are you caring for a loved one with mental health issues? Are you concerned about what would happen to your special needs loved one if you were no longer able to take care of him or her? In fact, have you given serious consideration to your loved one’s future and the need for thoughtful and careful planning? Depending on the severity of their mental health issues, at our firm we know that the specific needs of these individuals can vary greatly. In fact, often many people with mental health issues need assistance throughout their entire lives.
As you care for your loved one, whether a husband, wife, or child, with mental health challenges, when should you begin your estate planning? And is estate planning enough, or should you also consider special needs planning? The answer is that you should begin as soon as possible. Whether you are the caregiver or not, you know that one of your roles is to make sure there is a firm legal, financial, and medical foundation in place.
Be aware, this type of estate planning may be hard to begin and we understand that. It is not easy to think about a time when you may not be here to provide care for your loved one yourself. We want you to know that we work with families and the challenges they face each and every day and we can help you. We would like to share a few answers to questions you may have regarding estate special needs planning.
1. How do I get started? First, make a list of what your loved one can and cannot do to share with a qualified Florida estate planning attorney. This list should include medical, educational, financial, legal and vocational decisions. Be sure to also carefully assess his or her abilities to make rational decisions. For example, is your loved one able to make choices related to self-care? Another example, is he or she able to communicate for him- or herself?
2. Have you thought about who would be the right decision maker when you are gone? You need to talk to your estate planning attorney about your concern that when the time comes and you are no longer able to handle the responsibility of your loved one, who will take over for you? With your attorney, you can create the legal documents you need. If you want you can write instructions or a letter of intent. Although this letter does not have legal standing, it can give instructions to future decision makers to use for any medical, financial, and legal decisions once you are no longer able to act.
3. What is a special needs trust and do I need one? There are different types of trusts that can be created in your estate planning. One of the most important benefits of special needs trust planning is it allows the disabled person to not lose access to key government benefits, such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). As an example, if your loved one with mental health issues inherits directly, without a special needs trust in place, he or she may be at risk of losing his or her benefits until the money received is spent down on his or her care. In our firm we can make a special needs trust its own document or put discretionary language into your existing trust to protect your special needs loved one.
The main goal when planning for a loved one with mental health issues, or any special need, is to be sure he or she has enough support throughout the remainder of his or her life. Ensuring your special needs loved one is taken care of, even when you can no longer be there to assist, is critical.
We know this article may raise more questions than it answers. Our estate planning law firm takes a very different approach from what you might have come to expect. Our goal is to create lifelong relationships with each of our clients, to guide and manage your legacy for the rest of your life. Please contact our offices in Stuart and in Palm City to learn more.