Five Tips On How to Plan For a Loved One With Autism

Are you caring for a loved one with autism? Have you given serious consideration to your loved one’s future and the need for thoughtful and careful planning? Depending on the severity of their autism the specific needs of autistic individuals can vary greatly and, in fact, many people with autism need assistance throughout their entire lives.

Are you the parent, grandparent, or sibling taking care of an autistic loved one? When should you begin planning for your loved one with autism? You should begin your planning early. As the caregiver for your loved one, one aspect of your role is to make sure there is a solid legal, financial and medical foundation in place.

We know it may be hard to begin this type of estate planning. In fact, you probably do not like to think about a time when you may not be here to provide care for your loved one yourself. We want to assure you that we work with families and the challenges they face each and every day. We would like to share a few answers to questions you may have regarding special needs planning.

1. Do I always have the authority to make decisions for my autistic child?

Yes, but you must have planning in place. Are you aware that when a minor with autism reaches the age of majority (18 years old in Florida), he or she becomes a legal adult. Even if his or her developmental, cognitive or mental disabilities are severe, in the eyes of the law your child will be deemed an adult. That means that without planning, you could lose your legal authority.

2. What can I do if my autistic loved one cannot safely make decisions at this time?

Start by making a list of what your autistic loved one can and cannot do. This list should include medical, educational, financial, legal and vocational decisions. Also, be sure to carefully assess his or her abilities to make rational decisions, including, choices related to self-care and whether he or she is able to communicate for him- or herself. This is the beginning of what you will share with your estate planning attorney. Your attorney will explain that you will want to think about the authority you need as a part of the guardianship process.

3. Because my child can make some decisions, can the court consider a less restrictive guardianship?

Yes, the court can. The key to guardianship is ensuring that your child is safe. Be sure to talk to your estate planning attorney first if you are thinking about not proceeding to obtain guardianship over your disabled child. In the future, you do not want to be in a situation where a decision needs to be made that requires legal authority, and you do not have it.

4. Do I need a backup guardian?

Absolutely! If the time comes when you can no longer handle the responsibility of your loved one, discuss with your estate planning attorney who can take over your guardianship role. With your attorney, you can create the legal documents you need together with a letter of intent. This letter is a document that will act as a roadmap for guardians and trustees to navigate medical, financial and legal decisions once you are no longer able to act.

5. What is a special needs trust?

For a disabled person, there are different types of special needs trusts that can be created. The main benefit of special needs trust planning is it allows the disabled person to not lose access to key government benefits, such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). For example, if your autistic loved one inherits directly, without a special needs trust in place, he or she may be at risk of losing his or her benefits until the money received is spent down on his or her care.

The basic concept to follow in planning for a loved one with autism, or any special need, is to ensure he or she has enough support throughout the remainder of his or her life. Ensuring your loved one is taken care of, even when you can no longer be there to assist, is critical.

Do not wait to contact our law practice to learn more today. We encourage you to contact us and schedule a meeting. To learn more about Meloro Law and how we can help you when you need legal representation for estate planning or elder law issues do not wait to call us today.