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Future planning for special needs families

All Georgia families with a special needs member, whether that person is a child or an adult, will benefit from careful planning for the person's future. Both state and federal government agencies provide significant assistance for special needs people, and parents and siblings can take steps to ensure that their family member is provided the necessary care and financial support.

One of the most important steps is planning for future medical, educational and housing needs for a special needs dependent. A second step is reviewing beneficiary designations on wills and family trusts. Eligibility for federal special needs programs is limited to people who do not own more than $2,000 in assets, and eligibility can be destroyed if the dependent is named as an heir or trust beneficiary.

Another important step is to convene a family meeting to review the likely needs for housing, education and medical care for the special needs dependent. These meetings provide every family member with an opportunity to share feelings and attitudes about caring for the special needs dependent. Contact with both government agencies and non-profits that provide assistance will increase the likelihood of obtaining extra money for the dependent's needs.

Several legal steps are also important. Consider setting up a special needs trust for the dependent. Such a trust provides a method for ensuring the quality of life of the special needs dependent without endangering their eligibility for federal and state assistance programs. Parents and adult siblings of the dependent should prepare wills that do not leave any large bequests to the dependent. Finally, establishing a guardianship or conservatorship may be necessary to ensure that the dependent's financial and health care decisions are retained by the dependent's adult caregiver. An attorney who specializes in special needs planning can help with any questions you may have.

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