What are the considerations when developing a life care plan?

A life care Planning is a blueprint for providing the economic security and services that someone with special needs will require in order to live a fulfilling life, as independently as possible. It’s necessarily an evolving document that:

  • Assesses the supports that will be required, and their cost, given the individual’s disabilities and desired lifestyle;
  • Identifies government benefits for which the person may be eligible;
  • Includes a financial plan for supplementing publicly-provided services, including a special needs trust (SNT) if means-tested government benefits will be required;
  • Recommends guardianship or powers of attorney, if the individual will be unable to make important decisions independently;
  • Suggests a letter of intent containing medical, education and personal details to guide caregivers when parents have passed away.

What is “transition planning“?

Transition planning is the process of preparing a young person with special needs for adulthood. By the age of 15, a student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) should begin addressing the academic, social and life skills that will be needed to become as independent as possible. Will they live in a group residence or supported apartment? Do they aspire to a career? And what sort of social life do they envision? To the extent possible, the individual with special needs should participate in this life care planning process. In addition, once your child reaches the age of 18 (19 or 21 in some states), they will be legally considered a competent adult. If they will continue to need assistance making decisions relating to finances, health care or education, parents should apply for guardianship or establish appropriate powers of attorney and/or a healthcare proxy.

Is it necessary for parents to apply for guardianship when an individual with special needs turns 18?

When considering guardianship, it’s important to maintain a balance between an individual’s privacy and independence and the desire to protect a loved one. Most states automatically consider an individual to be a competent adult when they reach the age of 18 (19 or 21 in some states). At that point, parents will not be able to access an adult child’s health records or take an active role in their IEP meetings unless they take legal action. Applying for full guardianship, however, which affects a wide range of personal decision-making, may not be necessary, and individual circumstances should be carefully considered. A health care proxy enables the agent to act on behalf of the individual with special needs who, nonetheless, does not relinquish their ability to make decisions. A financial or education power of attorney similarly allows access to records, participation in discussions and signing authority, while not interfering with the individual’s own decision-making rights. A special needs attorney can help assess alternatives.

What support services are available to a young adult after high school graduation?

The supports available to an individual with special needs change markedly once they leave the public school system. Services are more fragmented and differ from state to state. Medicaid “waiver” programs addressing career development, residential options, and day habilitation are among the most common programs available. Career services may include skills assessments, training, resume assistance, counseling, job placements, and supported employment. Check with your state office for disability services for details.

What’s the purpose of a letter of intent?

A letter of intent (LOI) summarizes, in a single document, important details that will enable guardians and trustees to care for an individual with special needs when parents are no longer able to do so. It should include medical and education history, the individual’s likes, dislikes and habits, and aspirations concerning the loved one’s future, including living arrangements, career and lifestyle. The LOI is meant to be a roadmap for caregivers and to minimize disruption during an emotional time of transition.

If you’d like to speak with an attorney who has specialized knowledge of these issues such as life care planning, please use our directory to find SNA members in your state.