The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) has designated October as Special Needs Law Month. Unlike traditional lawyers, Special Needs Law attorneys focus on the issues that affect the elderly and those with special needs.

Special Needs Law attorneys pay special attention to the need for advance planning by special needs individuals and their families. Government programs are often critical for those with special needs as they provide cash benefits as well as medical coverage and long-term care support and services. Becoming eligible for Government benefits can be a complex and complicated process. These programs are generally based on a person’s income level and financial resources. Special Needs Law attorneys assist families in financing long-term care, and provide them with the legal tools for financial management, such as powers of attorneys and trusts.

A special needs trust must be designed specifically to supplement and not supplant government benefits. Let’s say you have an adult daughter that has a mental disability; she is unable to manage her own money or property and receives SSI disability. You do not want to leave money or property to your daughter directly if that will disqualify her from receiving the government assistance she needs. Instead, you might want to set up a “special needs trust.”

When you create this trust for your daughter, you transfer some of your property into the trust, appoint someone as the trustee, and name your daughter as the beneficiary. The money that is put into the special needs trust will not be counted when the government calculates whether your daughter remains eligible to receive government benefits (like Social Security or Medicaid). This is because your daughter herself has no control over the money in the trust, or how it is spent, and she can never revoke the trust or take money out. The only person that can make these decisions is the trustee and the trust itself describes in some detail what expenses the trustee can pay from the trust fund.

Many difficult issues present themselves when planning your estate to care for your loved one with special needs. The peace of mind you achieve knowing that you have prepared for the inevitable will make facing those difficult issues worthwhile.

NAELA members are the premier providers of legal guidance, advocacy and services that enhance the lives of seniors and people with special needs. If you have a family member with special needs or are a senior facing aging issues, you should only work with a NAELA attorney that can provide you with the level of service that you require.

NAELA was formed in 1987 and has grown to over 4,000 members.