Addressing Special Needs Requires Thoughtful Financial & Estate Planning

Read Time: 4 Min
Financial and estate planning aren’t easy for anyone. But for families with special needs, there are additional considerations that can make this already difficult process even more complex.

If you think your family doesn’t have any special needs, you may not be considering all of the different circumstances that can affect your ability to accumulate, manage, protect and transfer your wealth. The reality is that special needs come in many different forms: they can be temporary or permanent; they can come on suddenly or develop over a lifetime; and they can affect any member of your family, including you. Special needs can consist of developmental or physical disabilities, incapacity, medical conditions, addictions, or even an overwhelming desire to spend excessively.

Very simply, a special needs person is anyone who has unique needs that require specialized planning in order to help provide a lifetime of adequate care and protection.

There are many situations that can cause you or someone else in your family to develop special needs. Some are known at an early age and are more likely to be addressed in planning, such as a child who has a physical or mental disability. But other types of special needs are more difficult to predict.

“We could be addressing a child with muscular dystrophy or cystic fibrosis whose needs require specialized planning to maintain needs-based government benefits. Or we could be talking about someone in the family who, for whatever reason, does not have your confidence to receive and use various assets wisely, said Stephanie Kormanec, senior wealth strategist, Huntington Private Bank®.

Some of the more common situations for which people often fail to plan include:

  • Medical emergencies. Unfortunately, serious health conditions like strokes, heart attacks and cancer do happen. Consider that every year more than 795,000 people in the U.S. suffer a stroke. Are your estate planning documents in order so that your loved ones can handle that possibility?
  • Cognitive impairment. Roughly 5.8 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer's in 2021 and that number is growing rapidly. That equates to one in 10 people (10%) age 65+ who have Alzheimer’s§. Have you thought through what plans need to be in place to manage decision making if you are unable to take the lead?
  • Long-term medical care. Someone turning age 65 today has almost a 70% chance of needing some type of long-term care services. Should this scenario arise, have you made your family aware of your wishes?
  • Substance abuse. Sadly, 46% of surveyed American families have been affected by substance abuse, with 18% reporting problems in their families with both drugs and alcohol#. If you’re one of these families, do you have plans in place to help ensure your loved ones have the financial assets they need without being able to exhaust all of their resources for drugs or alcohol?

Although planning for all the potential special circumstances in your family can be complicated, it is especially critical to do it sooner rather than later.

“People often don’t want to think about their own incapacity or all the things that could go wrong in life, so they push off talking about or planning for it. But proper planning now can create peace of mind and avoid a lot of potential problems in the future,” says Dan Griffith, senior vice president and director of wealth strategy, Huntington Private Bank®.

Knowing how to start the planning process is a key challenge for many families, especially those with special needs members. As soon as possible, it is crucial to involve the appropriate third-party professionals who can objectively evaluate your family’s situation and needs and help you consider various planning options.

“When you think of this in its broadest of terms, it’s hard to imagine a family that doesn’t have a member with special needsҰ.”
Dan Griffith
Senior Vice President and Director of Wealth Strategy, Huntington Private Bank®

If there is a family member with a mental or physical disability, another crucial step is to create a Letter of Intent. Although a Letter of Intent is an important planning tool, it is not a formal legal document. Its purpose is to memorialize your extensive knowledge of the special needs family member and to serve as a guide for future caregivers, guardians and trustees. This could include an overview of the family member’s life, daily schedule, medical history, education, religious beliefs, behavior management tips, history of benefits received, and more¥.

"In simple terms, a Letter of Intent serves to specify your knowledge, wishes and goals for your loved one and to lay out a roadmap of sorts,” said Kormanec. "A good approach during this process is to take baby steps so as to avoid being overwhelmed with questions and decisions. While you shouldn’t delay the process, you don’t need to tackle it all at once.”

Common Mistakes

Undoubtedly, the most common mistake is waiting too long to plan or not planning at all.

Other common mistakes:

  • Failing to involve the right professionals. With information now so readily available, it may be tempting to look for answers on your own. But it’s important to remember that each situation is unique and can likely benefit from the advice of experienced professionals.
  • Being too optimistic. Many people overestimate how much time they have left to make the proper arrangements and start transitioning responsibilities.
  • Forgetting to re-evaluate. Few things remain the same over time. People change. Needs change. That’s why it’s important to continually review your plans to ensure they are still in line with current realities.

Huntington Private Bank® has helped many high-net-worth families create financial plans that address special needs and circumstances. Connect with us to discuss your unique situation.

Related Content

Stephanie Kormanec interview. January 20, 2021.

Stroke Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 8, 2020.

§Facts and Figures. Alzheimer’s Association. Accessed February 2021.

How Much Care Will You Need? U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. October 15, 2020.

#Buchholz, Katharina. Substance Abuse Touches Around Half of All U.S. Families. November 8, 2019.

ҰDan Griffith interview. January 20, 2021.

¥O’Hara, Amy and Frishman, Sheryl. Letter of Intent. Special Needs Alliance. July 2013.

The information provided in this document is intended solely for general informational purposes and is provided with the understanding that neither Huntington, its affiliates nor any other party is engaging in rendering tax, financial, legal, technical or other professional advice or services, or endorsing any third-party product or service. Any use of this information should be done only in consultation with a qualified and licensed professional who can take into account all relevant factors and desired outcomes in the context of the facts surrounding your particular circumstances. The information in this document was developed with reasonable care and attention. However, it is possible that some of the information is incomplete, incorrect, or inapplicable to particular circumstances or conditions. NEITHER HUNTINGTON NOR ITS AFFILIATES SHALL HAVE LIABILITY FOR ANY DAMAGES, LOSSES, COSTS OR EXPENSES (DIRECT, CONSEQUENTIAL, SPECIAL, INDIRECT OR OTHERWISE) RESULTING FROM USING, RELYING ON OR ACTING UPON INFORMATION IN THIS DOCUMENT EVEN IF HUNTINGTON AND/OR ITS AFFILIATES HAVE BEEN ADVISED OF OR FORESEEN THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES, LOSSES, COSTS OR EXPENSES.

Huntington Private Bank® is a team of professionals dedicated to delivering a full range of wealth and financial services. The team is comprised of Private Bankers, who offer premium banking solutions, Wealth and Investment Management professionals, who provide, among other services, trust and estate administration and portfolio management from The Huntington National Bank, and licensed investment representatives of The Huntington Investment Company, who offers securities and investment advisory services. Huntington Private Bank® is a federally registered service mark of Huntington Bancshares Incorporated.

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