Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Are Your Beneficiaries Hurting Or Helping Your Child?

By Ryan F. Platt, Founder of A Special Needs Plan, Inc.

When you think about the future care giving for your child with Autism, you certainly understand that you must pass as much of your assets and money to them as possible to provide them the best possible life when you are no longer here. When we think about this transfer of money, we think of setting up a Will and possibly a Special Needs Trust. These two legal tools are most likely necessities in that process, but they are not the only tool you must use due to the fact there are several other ways that assets and property may pass at your death.

It is imperative that you are aware of these other ways so that you make conscious and educated decisions in order to ensure the best future for your loved one. For instance, certain real estate, bank and brokerage accounts may include survivorship rights meaning that when one joint owner dies, the property automatically shifts to the other joint owner, so that person now has 100% ownership in that asset.

Another way that assets pass at your death is through a Beneficiary Designation. You will find Beneficiary Designations on Life Insurance policies, and retirement accounts such as IRAs and 401(k)s. It is very common to name individuals as your beneficiary, such as a spouse, child or family member. Naming a child under the age of 18 takes the control of that asset out of your hands and puts into the hands of a 3rd party judge. Due to the fact you left money to a child under the age of 18, the court system will decide who oversees this money, how it is used, and then will disburse all that money to your child at age 18. If this occurs, and your child with Autism receives this money on their 18th birthday (and the amount totals more than $2,000) they will forfeit government benefits like SSI and Medicaid. You can avoid this by understanding more about how your property is owned, and by taking action on your beneficiary designation form.

Contingent Beneficiaries
It is critical to name Secondary and Tertiary beneficiaries. If you are married, It is understandable to name your spouse as a primary beneficiary, but then who do you name as the secondary beneficiary? We now know we do not want to name a child under the age of 18 as a beneficiary, and we certainly do not want to name your loved with Autism or else we can jeopardize government benefits. You can certainly name a family member, so that then that person will use the money to care for your child. The only concern with that is the money or property that you pass to that person becomes their asset. The danger with this situation is that if that person goes through a divorce the money you allocated for your loved one is a marital asset and will most likely be split in the divorce agreement which means your child does not have enough money to live the life you want for them. The other danger is if that family member is ever named in a lawsuit, the money you left them to help provide care your child will be susceptible to that lawsuit. For most families, the safest and most controlled way to secure your money is passed properly so as to provide for your child is through a Special Needs Trust. (Please seek counsel from a qualified Special Needs attorney is the design of such a trust.)

A Cautionary Tale

A Father visited an attorney to draft a Special Needs Trust so that he would protect his son’s future and always secure his future government benefits. The attorney designed, created, and drafted a Special Needs Trust using the proper language and with all the necessary provisions. They even named a family member as a Trustee and also named a Corporate Trustee to handle the administration of the trust so that it will always stay qualified as a Special Needs Trust as the government benefit landscape changes. The trust was well thought out and brilliantly designed.

The Father felt very secure. The Father died.

All his assets were transferred to the Special Needs Trust for the benefit of his son. . . All his assets except for an old IRA. An IRA is an account that does not pass through the Will, but instead passes through the Beneficiary Designation. This Father never changed the beneficiary designation after his son’s trust was created. The IRA Beneficiary was his son! This means that the IRA passed directly to his son, and because this retirement account had a value of $85,000, his son lost all his government benefits.

Everything his Father was trying to avoid happened because a small detail was not completed.

Although Beneficiary Designations are a small detail, not understanding how to use them appropriately for a family with a loved one with Special Needs, can be catastrophic to the future life of your loved one! Please review all your accounts and adjust your beneficiary designations appropriately.

If you would like more information about Special Needs Planning and other “small details”, please email Ryan at rplatt@aspecialneedsplan.com or visit the website www.ASpecialNeedsPLan.com.

A Review of the Types of Related and Educational Services for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

By Louis H. Geigerman

A frequent question that I am asked in my special education advocacy practice is what types of services are available to a student with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the public schools? With that in mind, this month I will discuss several types of related and educational services that can be effective for students with ASD’S.

Let us first begin with a definition of a related service. The term related service means transportation, and such developmental, corrective and other supportive services (including speech-language pathology and audiology services, interpreting services, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, including therapeutic recreation, social work services, school nurse services designed to enable a child with a disability to receive a free appropriate public education/ an individualized education program of the child, counseling services including rehabilitation counseling, orientation and mobility services, and medical services as may be required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education, including early identification and assessment of disabling conditions in children.

Most parents of children with ASD’S are cognizant of their child’s need for appropriate speech services due to communication deficits and occupational therapy due to fine, gross motor or sensory needs. A common overlooked but very effective related service is music therapy. Music therapy can be used to assist students in academic, behavioral and social needs. For more information consult the American Music Therapy Association at http://www.musictherapy.org/faqs.html

Another rarely accessed related service is social work services. Social work services in schools include:

i)Preparing a social or developmental history on a child with a disability;
ii)Group and individual counseling with the child and family;
iii)Working in partnership with parents and others on those problems in a child’s living situation (home, school and community) that affect the child’s adjustment in school;
iv)Mobilizing school and community resources to enable the child to learn as effectively as possible in his or her educational program; and
v)Assisting in developing positive behavioral intervention strategies

Another educational service that some students may require is adaptive physical education.

Special education includes instruction in physical education. Adaptive PE is instruction designed for a student’s unique needs. If a student has difficulty with motor planning that could compromise their ability to participate in a regular PE class, then adaptive PE should be considered. It should also be considered for students that may experience difficulties dressing out in locker rooms in high school as this is a frequent area for bullying of students with ASD’S.

Special Education also means instruction in the home and other settings. Students with ASD’S often have difficulty in generalizing skills in one setting to the other, therefore instruction in the home and community may be necessary.

Recreation and leisure therapy is another under requested service. Recreation therapy is a treatment service designed to restore, remediate and rehabilitate a person’s level of functioning and independence in life activities, to promote health and wellness as well as reduce or eliminate the activity limitations and restrictions to participation in life situations caused by an illness or a disabling condition. This can a particularly another important service for some students with ASD’S as there is a tendency to leave solitary and sedentary lives.

Travel training is another overlooked and under requested service. The ability to travel independently in the community helps to promote the development of autonomy in adolescents. Students who possess the knowledge and skills associated with independent travel have increased access to community events, including after school activities and employment (Bar-Lev, 1999).

Travel training is a comprehensive, intensive instruction designed to teach students how to travel safely and independently on public transportation (Groce, 2000). Students may receive training at any age, though it occurs typically between 12-14, depending on their maturity level and ability to act responsibly.

Finally, it is important to remember that a school district is required to perform assessments in all areas of suspected disabilities. Special education is defined as specially designed instruction at no cost to the parents to meet the unique needs of the child with a disability. With that in mind instruction in social skills should be an important component in the IEP of a student with an ASD. This instruction can occur at school, home and in the community.

This was not intended as an exhaustive listing of related and educational services available for students with ASD’S. It is important to note that assessments must be conducted to determine the need for the above referenced services. I encourage the reader to explore these services to assist your child in benefiting from special education. Louis H. Geigerman, Educational

Consultant- National ARD/IEP Advocates, Tel: 281-265-1506 Email: louis@narda.org www.narda.org.