By: Michael J. Searcy
When working with caregivers to dependents with special needs, I hear over and over, "The information is available, but making sense of everything is overwhelming!" Caregivers want to keep the hope that their dependent will become a highly functioning individual, so the wait-and-see approach often wins over diving into the details and worrying over creating a long-term plan. On top of the multitude of health concerns caregivers face, the thought of creating lifetime financial assistance for their dependents can be a challenging responsibility that can get pushed to the backburner. While rushing decisions may not be in the best interest of a caregiver, there are steps to be taken that provide a solid start toward preparing for the future.
Determine a Starting Point
Are you a caregiver wondering where to start? You might begin by talking to others with dependents at a similar functional level to yours. Resources such as community and national organizations, healthcare providers, access to research and overall support is often shared among caregivers. You can be very vulnerable to information presented on television specials and the Internet; it can put even the most intelligent people at a disadvantage. Paying attention to resources presented by trusted healthcare providers, advisors and school programs can help you find a place to start in deciding which information will benefit your situation.
Understand the Prognosis
Every special needs case is unique, and can vary not only by the type of disability, but also by the severity. By understanding the prognosis, you can more accurately chart a plan for the needs of your dependent. Consider costs of healthcare, living facilities and whether or not your dependent can take an active ownership of their care in determining the current and future needs and costs for which to plan.
Don't Neglect Yourself
Caregivers should also remember to take care of themselves. When you are lacking sleep and possibly having to give up employment, the standard of living you are accustomed to can drastically change. Whether it's having enough money to stay involved in activities or having quiet moments to enjoy a book or cup of coffee, you cannot neglect your own health and needs. Support groups and counselors geared toward caregivers can be beneficial in dealing with the stresses that comes with caregiver duties. When you are in a healthy state, it is easier to create a healthy, balanced environment for everyone.
Get Help from Professionals
Depending on your needs and the needs of your dependent, there are a few key professional players you should have lined up to help alleviate the financial confusion of your situation. To start, you might consider a financial planner and an estate planning attorney, both experienced in special needs circumstances, and charitable organizations specializing in broader special needs or the specific condition of your dependent.
Your professional team can help you determine the types of trusts or plans needed for you and your dependent, and the language that will protect everyone involved. In order to receive federal aid, dependents with special needs cannot have non-exempt assets in their name that exceed a certain dollar limit. Staying within this limit will be an important factor in determining how your personal financial documents should be written. Family members should also be educated on the appropriate language and designations to use in any of their financial documents. For example, if a grandparent wanted to leave an inheritance to the dependent, the situation might require it be left to a special needs trust so the dependent does not become the official owner of those assets.
Don't get overwhelmed by the details. Make sure you are working with professionals that can help you create a plan to secure the livelihood of your dependent, now and in the future.
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