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Estate planning is essential if you have a special-needs child

All Californians who have children should have an estate plan in place to ensure those children's care and financial support if something happens to their parents. However, this is especially true for parents of children with special needs. Sometimes, those children will need care and financial assistance into adulthood. Even if they won't, you want to make sure that they have a guardian who is able and willing to care for them properly.

The foundation of an estate plan is the will. That's where you will name guardians for your minor children or adult children if necessary. The sometimes-daunting prospect of choosing a guardian is why many people, whether their children have special needs or not, postpone making a will. One financial services professional says that it's important to remember that you can always change the designated guardian(s) if circumstances change.

By not having a will in which a guardian is named, you are leaving the decision to courts who don't know your child or leave your family to battle over who cares for him or her. If you don't have one person whom you feel can handle all of your child's needs; you might consider assembling a "team," with one person responsible for care and someone else responsible for finances as well as successors to those people.

A special-needs trust is essential if your child will not be able to support him- or herself as an adult. This needs to be done properly. If you designate your assets to go directly to your child, that child may not be able to qualify for government benefits such as Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income.

It's essential to work with financial and legal advisors experienced in special-needs trusts. They can help determine the best option based on the child's current and predicted future needs. As noted, these choices can always be amended while you're alive as people come into or leave your lives or as your financial situation changes. However, no matter how young or healthy you are, no one knows what the future will bring. It's essential to have a plan in place so that your child's care and financial security are ensured if something happens to you.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Getting Your Estate Plan Right" CAROLYN T. GEER, Aug. 02, 2014

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