April 2nd is World Autism Day. The purpose of World Autism Awareness day is to encourage early detection and intervention. If your child or grandchild seems to be showing signs of speech delay or is not interacting with you autismspeaks.org has some tools to help you determine if your child or grandchild needs to be evaluated for autism. A diagnosis of Autism is scary and can be profoundly disabling, however there have been great advances in therapies, education and even some medications which give great hope for a happy life despite the autism diagnosis.
If you have a child or grandchild with Autism you are concerned about their future. There is good reason for worry; budgets for social services and the Regional Center are always subject to cuts. Many children and adults with Autism receive public benefits which will be lost if the person inherits money which is not put into a Special Needs Trust. Losing public benefits can mean losing housing, caregivers and health insurance. The loss of public benefits can be devastating. A Special Needs Trust can insure that your loved one keeps all these important public benefits; additionally a Special Needs Trust can supplement the benefits as the Trust is allowed to provide your loved one whatever they need so long as the Trustee follows the rules set out by Social Security.
If you have a Will or Trust drafted by an attorney (or you do it yourself), and you have a child with Autism, and you don’t have a Special Needs Trust or worse you think you have a Special Needs Trust and it is not written correctly your loved one is at risk of losing important public benefits when you pass and they are least equipped to take care of themselves. If you want to leave your estate to someone with Autism, you need a Special Needs Trust which meets the requirements set forth by Social Security, the rules are not simple and if the Trust is not written correctly your loved one could lose benefits. Parents and grandparents often delay setting up a Special Needs Trust because they worry that the Trust will impede them if they are able to function like other adults. Elder Law and Special Needs Trusts Attorneys know how to set up a Trust, that will meet the legal requirements to make sure that if the person needs public benefits they will be guaranteed to get them, while a child who is able to be self-supporting will be able to receive the full benefits of their inheritance.
When a person turns 18, they have all the rights of an adult regardless of their ability to make their own decisions. Parents of a child with Autism (or other disability) must decide whether or not their child needs assistance with making adult decisions. If your child needs assistance with adult decisions you need to file for Conservatorship. An Elder Law and Special Needs Attorney familiar with Conservatorships can help you with this process and can help you with deciding if a Conservatorship is needed for your child. A consult with the attorney who understands the needs of people living with disabilities, will help guide you through all the decisions you need to make and help ease your worry about what happens to your child when you are no longer here to take care of them.
Martha Patterson is a California Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law, and Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. She focuses on Elder Law, Asset Protection and Estate Planning. She is a Member of NAELA; Past President of Southern California NAELA. Featured on CNN, Good Morning America, NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox News, and radio stations KABC, KNX, and KKLA. She overcame incredible objections and enabled Kerri and Julie Kasem to visit their dad radio host Casey Kasem. She is a frequent lecturer for NBI, and is a at MCLE events, and public forums.