Checklist: Estate planning for your special needs child

By Annie Stuart

Expert reviewed by Tara Anne Pleat, JD

Estate planning for a child with severe learning disabilities requires special approaches. Use this list as a starting point.

Special needs: A letter of intent

  • Carefully consider what kind of life you would like for your child.
  • Create a letter of intent for future caregivers stating your desires.
  • Include your child’s medical history and personal care needs.
  • Share this document with family members and friends you trust.
  • Regularly review this letter and update it as needed.

Special needs trust

  • Learn about Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income.
  • See if inheritance will keep your child from being eligible.
  • Look into setting up a special needs trust through an experienced attorney.
  • Make sure anyone leaving your child money directs it to the trust.
  • Decide whether to create the trust while you’re living or as a part of your will.
  • Find out how different types of special needs trusts will affect your taxes.
  • Select an informed trustee — an individual or financial institution, or both.
  • Carefully discuss with a qualified attorney any trust you set up.

Special needs estate planning attorneys

  • Look for an attorney with expertise in special needs estate planning.
  • Get referrals from local disability organizations, advocacy agencies, and parents.
  • Interview special needs attorneys before deciding which one to choose.

Guardianship and conservatorship

  • If appropriate, apply for guardianship or conservatorship for a child over age 18.
  • Start early. In some states, this can take up to a year to process.
  • Consult with an attorney for alternatives to guardianship.


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