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Special needs planning: legal documents

When it comes to estate planning as a caregiver for a loved one with special needs or a disability, taking the time to be thoughtful and put your wishes in writing can help ensure a smooth transition and consistency of care. It can also help avoid potentially lengthy legal battles and other unnecessary challenges in an already difficult time. Start by officially naming your future support team, then consider the following ways to help make your loved one’s needs both known and official. 

Create or update a will

A will is a legal document that defines how a person wants their assets distributed at death. A will may name an executor for the estate and guardianship for minor children.

Create or update special needs or supplemental needs trust

A special needs trust is designed to provide financial support to a person with disabilities without jeopardizing the person’s access to social services benefits. This type of trust is highly specialized and must conform to very specific requirements, including that the trust assets not be used to pay for basic living expenses such as food, clothing, and shelter.

Create advance directives, also known as a living will

A living will allows someone to state their wishes regarding certain medical treatments, as well as life-prolonging and end-of-life procedures. This document usually takes effect if someone cannot communicate their own health care decisions.

Create a letter of intent

Think of a letter of intent as a handbook that guides your support team on how to provide the best care for your loved one. When creating your letter of intent, no standard set of requirements applies. You can start with basic information and add more over time. You may also find it beneficial to involve other caregivers while creating or reviewing your letter of intent to get other points of view. Note that a letter of intent is not legally binding, unless it includes specific language that the parties are legally bound to the terms. 
To help you get started, consider including some of these: 
Daily care 
Medicine, nutrition, behavior management, daily routine, tips and tricks, community-based activities (school, job, day program, etc.). 
General overview 
Family information and preferences, medical history and diagnosis, benefits and insurance information, future plans and wishes. 
Caring community 
Provide name and contact information for their medical team, case managers, social workers, future care team, friends and family, etc. 

Consider consulting a special needs attorney

Consider consulting with a special needs attorney to talk about how all these legal documents and arrangements might apply to you.

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This information is general in nature and provided for educational purposes only.

Fidelity does not provide legal or tax advice. The information herein is general in nature and should not be considered legal or tax advice. Consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific situation.