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How can I plan my estate to include special needs beneficiaries?

Estate planning for Pennsylvania residents who have beneficiaries with special needs obviously have many different concerns, both medically and financially. For these individuals, an estate plan can look quite a bit different than "routine" estate plans. How can Pennsylvania residents make an estate plan with special needs beneficiaries in mind?

For starters, it may be a good idea to draft what is called a "letter of intent." In this document, the person who is the primary caregiver for the individual with special needs can keep provide information about that individual's abilities, limitations, routines and interests. With this document in place, anyone who needs to assume care for that individual will have valuable information on how to go about certain tasks. However, these documents usually don't have binding legal effect - they are merely intended to assist the new caregiver.

An estate planning document that would have legal effect is a special needs trust, which permits the special needs individual to maintain eligibility for government assistance programs, while at the same time being able to benefit from the trust funds. A special needs trust may go into effect while the parent is living or may be part of a Last Will and Testament so that it only goes into effect after the parent has passed away.

Lastly, with the right type of trust as part of an estate plan, it is important to choose the right trustee. This individual will be the person who makes sure that the special needs individual receives the financial assistance that they need to supplement government benefits. Financial institutions, such as banks, may be an option, but many people will choose someone who already has a close personal relationship with the special needs individual or a non-profit that only handles trusts for those with special needs.

An Source: The National Law Review, "10 Estate Planning Tips for Families with Beneficiaries with Special Needs," May 3, 2018

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