Are you the parent of a child with Down syndrome? Are you contemplating creating an estate plan? Did you know that among American adults we still find less than half have an estate plan. Unfortunately, this lack of preparedness is not a risk a family of a loved one with special needs, such as Down syndrome, should take. In fact, without an estate plan, you might possibly put your loved one in a precarious position that could leave him or her vulnerable to not only the loss of familial support but also access to government benefits, healthcare providers, and security.

Unfortunately, all too often in our practice we see family members who are devastated by a lack of planning by the parent of a loved one with special needs. Even though many of us do not want to think about a time when we can no longer advocate for our loved ones with Down syndrome or when we are no longer here, creating an estate plan is a critical step everyone should take in protecting their loved ones with Down syndrome. We want to share the estate planning mistakes to avoid so that you can be sure that your loved one with Down syndrome is always protected from uncertainty both now and in the future.

1. Not having an estate plan. This is the most serious mistake you can make. When your loved one has Down syndrome you must ensure he or she is provided for in the event you are no longer here. Unfortunately, many parents do not want to think of a time when they are no longer able to care for their loved one with Down syndrome and so they put off planning. We know it can be hard but you must plan for the future to be able to protect your loved one.

2. Not having the right decision maker. Do not make the mistake of choosing the wrong decision maker for your loved one in your estate plan. When you are planning for your loved one with Down syndrome an important thing to take care of is to find a trusted successor who will be able to provide the same kind care you do. However, do not make the mistake of not letting your successor know. In fact, you should be sure to let the person you are choosing know of your decision. This way your successor will have time to reflect on your wishes and decide if he or she is able to take on this role or not. If he or she does not want to take on the responsibility, you can choose an alternate person before he or she is needed.

3. Not remembering to plan for public benefits. Does your loved one with Down syndrome receive public benefits like SSI or Medicaid? The monies from these benefits can help cover essential needs and cost of living for your loved one. Do not make the mistake of forgetting that these programs include financial qualifications. That being said, if your loved one inherits from you, either through your estate plan or through intestacy, he or she may lose access to his or her critical benefits. Your estate plan should be mindful of the resources available to your loved one and be created accordingly.

4. Not creating your estate plan with an attorney experienced in this area. Be aware that not all attorneys are experienced in the subtle differences involved in special needs planning. It is critical for you to research the Florida estate planning attorneys available in your area. Meet with them so that you can decide who will be able to ensure that your wishes for yourself and your loved one with Down syndrome can be achieved. Keep in mind, mistakes in estate planning when our loved ones have Down syndrome can be costly, but easily avoided through careful estate planning.

We know this article may raise more questions than it answers. At David H. Jacoby Elder Law Advocate, P. A., we are focused on providing thorough, ethical, and timely solutions for our clients and their loved ones. We encourage you to contact us and schedule a meeting with us.