If you have a child with autism, you know how important early intervention, ongoing therapy, and support are when it comes to maximizing your child’s capability to achieve independence, self-care, and have a high quality of life. You probably also recognize that your child may likely need additional support throughout his or her lifetime.
One of the most important steps you can take on this journey is to engage the assistance of an experienced autism planning attorney in Walnut Creek to make the right choices to help your child along the way.
What Is Autism?
Autism is a complex developmental disability appearing around three years of age. It is believed to be the result of a neurological disorder affecting normal brain functioning, which causes difficulty in communication, social interaction, and participation in leisure or play activities.
Autism is the most common of five different developmental disorders originally described as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), neurological disorders affecting every ethnicity. Asperger syndrome is a related disorder, but individuals with it display different characteristics from persons with classical autism.
Current diagnostic practices recognize that individuals may display varying characteristics that defy precise diagnosis of one disorder or another and that individuals may fall anywhere along a spectrum of characteristics, abilities, and challenges. The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) therefore lists one disorder – Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – based on features such as persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction as well as restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of individuals affected by autism spectrum disorder continues to grow each year.
Why is Special Needs Support for Persons with Autism so Important?
Children and adults with autism who meet specific income guidelines are generally eligible for government assistance, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Medical assistance to pay for routine and emergency medical costs, such as doctor visits, hospital stays, and prescription drugs are covered by Medi-Cal. Unfortunately, if total assets exceed $2,000, eligibility for SSI, Medi-Cal, and all other need-based benefits ceases.
Although it’s commonly believed that government programs such as SSI and Medi-Cal/Medicaid will care for the child when the parents have passed away, this is incorrect. What the child needs is for the parents to have a well-crafted estate plan that includes a Third-Party Special Needs Trust. Our autism planning attorney in Walnut Creek can help you craft such a plan.
How a Special Needs Trust Can Help
By creating a special needs trust for a child with autism, you help ensure that the child will continue to receive your financial support as the child grows into adulthood, without losing valuable government benefits.
Funds in the special needs trust can be used for a variety of purposes such as tuition, computers, transportation, travel, hobbies, and personal care. Because these funds are owned by the trust, however, they are not counted as the personal income of the individual with special needs, which means they are not considered when determining the individual’s eligibility for Medi-Cal, SSI, or other government benefits. Because valuable government benefits are on the line, special needs trusts should be carefully constructed by an estate planning attorney who is knowledgeable and experienced in creating special needs trusts for individuals with autism spectrum disorder.