By Ann McGee Green, Esq. 
Transition planning, which readies a young person with disabilities for adulthood, should ideally begin at the age of 14 or 15. At that time, the teen, parents, and educators should discuss the skills that will be needed to support “life after school.” Will college be an option? Is employment likely? Will the individual continue to live at home, or is a supported, community-based residence desired? Each of those decisions should be considered in selecting the academic and life skills to be included in a child’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan).
It’s important to realize that, regardless of the individual’s disability, he will be considered a competent adult at the age of 18. If the child will be unable to make important life choices at that point, parents must choose between applying for guardianship or implementing documents such as Powers of Attorney that cover legal, financial, medical and educational issues. An experienced special needs attorney can explain the pros and cons of each.
Families should also assess the role that government benefits will play in the child’s financial future. When the child reaches 18, parents must decide whether or not to apply for SSI (Supplemental Security Income), which provides funding for food and shelter. In many states, obtaining SSI locks in eligibility for Medicaid, which may become an important component in providing medical—and in many cases residential– support. Medicaid Waiver programs often cover day care, service coordination, and residential expenses. Since the waiver programs are underfunded in many states, waiting lists are long, and children should be signed up as soon as possible.
If a Special Needs Trust (SNT) hasn’t already been established, now is the time to discuss the options in establishing one, so that assets intended to improve the child’s quality of life won’t disqualify him for means-tested government public programs.
Transition planning is really about preparing for the time when Mom and Dad will no longer be around. It involves sensitive discussions, but early—an ongoing—decision-making increases the likelihood that a loved one with disabilities will have opportunities to lead a fulfilling life.