The Dangers of DIY Planning - Special Needs Edition
The below article is reprinted from the November 2019 Newsletter of
Sheri R. Abrams, Attorney at Law, www.sheriabrams.com.
With today's technology, access to information is literally in the palm of our hands. From your cell phone, you can download manuals to repair a washing machine that's thirty years old or watch step-by-step video tutorials that will teach you how to do anything from knitting a sweater to playing an instrument without taking a single lesson.
However, just because you can do something yourself doesn't always mean you should. Special Needs Planning is an example of something that may seem easy to take care of by yourself or by using an online program, but in most cases, legal planning is one area where you should resist the urge to D-I-Y. Much like botching a DIY kitchen remodel, mistakes in special needs planning can be expensive to fix. Ultimately, do-it-yourself legal planning could end up costing you or your family more than if you had just hired a professional from the start. Here are a few reasons why:
Lack of Advice
An online service can't provide you with personalized, professional legal advice on what's best for your situation, and based on your child's unique needs. Sure, it can ask you a few questions and an algorithm can come up with some suggestions based on your responses, but it's not going to be able to ask every question that needs to be asked or answer any questions that you may have. A Special Needs Planning Attorney, however, can sit down and have a discussion with you about your family situation, your financial status, your short and long-term wishes for your child, any conflicts that could arise from your decisions (e.g. why your child could become ineligible for Medicaid and SSI benefits if you leave him or her an inheritance the wrong way) and other important issues that need to be considered when drawing up your documents.
Addressing State Laws
There is not one set of laws that apply to children and adults with special needs. In fact, programs such as Medicaid (which is the health insurance program utilized by many individuals with special needs) is a federal program that is administered differently by each state. Benefits that you may have heard are available to disabled persons in other parts of the country may not apply in your state and vice versa. There may also be programs for individuals with special needs available on the county level. Online programs or "DIY planning kits" are not equipped to understand the nuances of each program and their eligibility requirements. As such, any decisions you make in your planning could have repercussions when it comes to accessing these different benefits---or you may miss out on benefits all together because the DIY program does not offer counseling and information on what's ultimately available for your family.
Being Your Voice
When you hire a Special Needs Planning Attorney, you'll get the personal service that a website cannot offer. They're not going to just sit behind a desk and plug in names and dollar amounts as if it's a game of legal "Mad Libs." Instead, your attorney will help you explore your options and discuss your wishes thoroughly. Likewise, some elements of special needs planning require court involvement, such as petitioning for a Guardianship when the individual turns 18. These proceedings can be complicated and once again, your attorney will be by your side to ensure the best outcome.
Even if you think your personal situation is simple enough that documents such as your Special Needs Trust can be done using a form or template on a website, at least look into an appointment with a local attorney. There's a good chance that it will be less expensive than you thought. With that said, if you'd like to meet me to discuss your options, simply call the office to schedule an appointment.