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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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 www.metlife.com/desk 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
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.