If you have a child of any age with a serious disability who relies on you for their care and support, setting up a special needs trust (SNT) for them is likely your first step in estate planning. An SNT allows you to set aside assets (such as cash, stocks and even real estate) to be used for your child’s care so that they can’t be used to determine eligibility for government benefits.
A carefully crafted SNT allows you to provide all the comforts and advantages you can afford to while not losing the benefits to which your child is entitled for basic necessities. Designating the right trustee and guardian can also give you peace of mind that they’ll still get the best possible care even when you’re no longer around to provide it.
As you create your SNT, or even if you already have one, it’s wise to include a letter of intent (LOI). Although an LOI isn’t a legal document, it can be invaluable to your child’s designated guardian if you become incapacitated or when you pass away.
Why do you need an LOI?
Even if your designated guardian is a family member who knows your child well, unless they’re caring for them every day, there may be things they should know that will make things easier for your child and them.
Your LOI should not just be kept with your other estate plan documents. Provide your guardian and any alternates with a copy so they can ask any questions and be able to get to it immediately if needed.
What information to include
Besides contact information for doctors, therapists, caregivers and other people in your child’s life, along with medical information, your LOI can include guidance like the following about your child:
- What they can and cannot do by themselves
- What skills they’re working on
- Triggers to avoid (specific words, movements, people and so forth)
- How to manage or calm them if they “act out”
- What they enjoy doing
- Where they enjoy spending time
- Who their favorite people and animals are
- What your long-term hopes and goals are for your child
These things can certainly change over time, especially if your child’s disability is evolving (either for better or worse). That’s why it’s important to keep this document updated.
While you don’t need legal guidance for an LOI, you do need it to develop and maintain an SNT that lets you provide for your child now and in the future.