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Five Things to Do When Your Special Needs Child Turns 18

When you special needs child is nearing the age of 18, it can be overwhelming to think about what steps need to be taken to ensure your child continues to receive the care and services that they need. We have compiled a list of five things to do when your special needs child becomes an adult. While this list is a great place to start, it is not an exhaustive list of everything that can or should be done. Please be sure to consult with us to discuss your family's specific circumstances and what steps should be taken to protect your child's personal and financial future.


  1. Obtain Guardianship or Power of Attorney. Once your child becomes an adult, doctors and banks may start asking for some type of legal proof that you, as a parent, have the ability to make decisions on behalf of your adult disabled child. This means that you will need to obtain either Guardianship or Power of Attorney over your child in order to remain part of the decision making process. Whether Guardianship or a Power of Attorney is appropriate for your situation can be a difficult decision, and it should be discussed with your attorney as well as your child's medical team.

  2. Apply for Social Security Income. Once your child reaches the age of 18, they could be eligible for social security income (or "SSI"). SSI is a governmental program that provides funds to disabled individuals to be used for basic needs like food and shelter. SSI does have a resource limit, and you will want to be sure that your adult disabled child meets this resource requirement to avoid any ineligibility or overpayment issues. The application process can also be tedious and overwhelming the first time you do it. Be sure to discuss your adult disabled child's eligibility with an experienced financial advisor or attorney to be sure that your application is completed correctly and to receive the maximum benefit.

  3. Apply and/or Re-Apply for Medical Assistance. Even if your son or daughter is already receiving Medical Assistance, it will be necessary for you to reapply at age 18 to be sure they continue to receive Medicaid services. You may also want to apply for certain Medicaid Home and Community Based Waiver programs. These waivers have caps and long wait lists, so it is advisable to apply for them as early as possible.

  4. Set up a Special Needs Trust and ABLE Account. Because of the resource limit set by SSI, it is highly advisable to set up a Special Needs Trust and ABLE account to be sure your son or daughter remains eligible for SSI funds. These resources, when used properly, can allow your son or daughter to continue to work, receive gifts/inheritances, and acquire some savings while still remaining eligible for SSI. It is important that an experienced attorney draft your Special Needs Trust so that your child doesn't have any issues with SSI eligibility later down the line.

  5. Update Your Estate Plan. Unfortunately, many people do not have their wills written to reflect their child's special needs. You will want to be sure to update your will immediately. First, you will want to be sure that any inheritance flowing to your special needs child flows into their Special Needs Trust, and not to them directly. Second, you will want to be sure that you establish who should be granted Guardianship over your adult disabled child, and any minor children, if you were to pass away.

Although these steps may seem exhausting and difficult, many of them can be completed together easily and efficiently. Our office is ready and willing to discuss these steps with you and to guide you through the process. We also work with local financial advisors who would be happy to assist you with any financial questions you may have. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns.


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