Skills That Your Special Needs Planning Professional Should Have
Part 10 in a Series of Articles
by Dave Harmon, MSW, MBA

Many parents of children with special needs do not know what skill sets their special needs planning professional advisors should have. Choosing the wrong advisor can have disastrous effects on the quality of life of the individual, and can certainly affect the outcome of all special needs planning, estate planning, government benefits, and other important planning issues regarding the individual.

Here is a guide of skill sets and experiences that your advisor should have before you consider having him or her plan for your child with special needs:

    • Has tangible experience in special needs planning and, as a result, has a pool of clients that can be used as references. Just as references should be available to anyone considering using the services of a professional, parents should be able to ask for and receive the names of satisfied clients that they may contact.
    • Should be well grounded and knowledgeable in all types of available government benefit programs such as: SSI (Supplemental Security Income), SSDI (Social Security Disability Income), Medicaid (state run federal program for the aged, disabled, and blind), and Medicare (Social Security Health Insurance program with Part A & B coverages).
    • Understands how Medicaid-related health benefits work in your state. For instance, some states have Medicaid supplement programs and additional benefits available through TEFRA (Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act).
    • If your advisor is knowledgeable about such programs, he or she may be able to advocate for a client and secure additional levels of benefits, or can refer clients to advocates who may be able to assist them.
    • Is well-grounded in the fundamentals of estate planning. This would include understanding the inter-relationships of legal documents and how they work, such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney, healthcare proxies. Your advisor should also be up to date on recent 2001 changes in the estate tax laws that could impact on special needs planning issues. Estate tax rates are now in the process of being reduced and will be phased out over a ten-year period. However, at the end of the ten- year period, the tax code will revert to current law.
    • Works well with other professionals who have an expertise in special needs planning. This can include a relationship with a network of attorneys who are skilled in drafting legal documents and special needs trusts.
    • Understands that both federal and state laws affect the drafting of special needs trusts. SSA regulations affect special needs trusts. Therefore, it is important that an advisor is very fluent with the nuances of federal legislation governing trusts such as OBRA ‘93 and the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 (P.L. 106-169). Section 205. Both OBRA ’93 and P.L. 106-169 directly affect SSI qualification. A lack of knowledge in this area could result in the loss of benefits.
    • Understands the role of the special needs trustee and can advise or refer to the appropriate individual on the use of funds in a special needs trust and on tax or other income matters.
    • Though not requisite, an added benefit would be if the advisor has a child, sibling, immediate family member, or relative with special needs, and/or does extensive volunteer work within the special needs community.
    • While not absolutely necessary, an advanced degree or designation such as LUTCF (Life Underwriting Training Council Fellow), CLU (Chartered Life Underwriter), ChFC (Chartered Financial Consultant), MBA (Masters in Business Administration), JD (Juris Doctor), or CFP (Certified Financial Planner), indicates a certain level of skill in the area of financial planning. The complexities of special needs planning, however, as noted above, call for specialized knowledge.

MetDESK Expertise

MetLife’s Division of Estate Planning for Special Kids, MetDESK is committed to helping families through the maze of legal and financial planning for the future of a child or dependent with special needs. To contact a MetDESK Specialist in your local community call 1-877-MetDESK (1-877-638-3375) or visit the MetDESK web site located at to request a meeting by filling out the on-line appointment maker. As a division of MetLife Financial Services, MetDESK was established to extend MetLife’s traditional commitment to public service to families of children with special needs.
Dave Harmon, MBA, MSW, is the Manager of the MetDESK, Division on Estate Planning for Special Kids, Metropolitan Life. Mr. Harmon is also a parent of a child with special needs.