Selecting Professionals for Special Needs Planning

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On 11/28/20 this article was edited to change the word "detrimental" to "instrumental" in the last sentence.

For parents of dependent children with disabilities, the importance of proper financial and estate planning is far more significant than merely focusing on investment or income tax planning. Many of these young and adult-age children are incapable of caring for themselves. Their future quality of life depends on their parent’s abilities and desires to structure a plan in coordination with government benefits available. Unfortunately, very few professionals are well versed in this highly specialized area of planning. The results of an improperly designed plan can be devastating for beneficiary children with disabilities.

The best results in planning can be achieved by a team of professionals qualified and experienced in special needs planning. While a qualified financial planner and an estate planning attorney are the initial team members, others such as housing specialists, tax accountants, professional advocates and social workers often make up the team as well. The following are helpful guidelines in selecting financial planners and estate planning attorneys.

Financial planners

In order to be a specialist, one has to be a generalist first. A comprehensive financial planner is trained and experienced in all areas of planning such as risk management, investment and retirement planning, estate planning, as well as income tax planning. Many financial planners focus only on certain areas of planning such as investments and or insurance, which may not always provide a holistic approach in planning. Special needs planning requires knowledge of not only all areas of planning, but also of various disabilities, government benefits, special needs estate planning laws and funding strategies for special needs trust. Some financial planners have been motivated to specialize in this area due to a personal experience in dealing with a close family member or a friend. They have the compassion, patience and dedication to work with this special population.

Qualified financial planners have the designation in financial planning such as Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) and a Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC®). The American College of Financial Services now offers a course for a Chartered Special Needs Consultant (ChSNC®). These designations also require the planners to have continuing education requirements in order for them to stay current on their knowledge base. Several life insurance companies train interested agents in special needs planning such as Met Life, Mass Mutual Life and Northwestern Mutual Life. Financial institutions such as Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley also have advisors that offer special needs planning. There are financial planners who are independent and choose not to be affiliated with any insurance company or other financial institutions. Families looking for a financial planner with specialization in special needs planning may consider the following in selecting their financial planner/advisor: