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Special Planning for Special Needs Individuals: An Inside Look

Special Planning for Special Needs Individuals: An Inside Look

The American College of Financial Services
May 18, 2020

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the cost of raising a child from birth to 18 years old is about $13,000 a year: while this alone can be a large financial burden for family members to bear, now imagine that child is diagnosed at a young age with autism, Downs syndrome, Asperberger’s, or any one of a myriad of special needs conditions. Families caring for special needs children and all the requisite changes that come with them can expect to pay more than twice as much, up to $30,000 per year.

It’s a sobering statistic, and while there’s no way to get around those additional expenses or the extra attention caregivers of a special needs child have to deal with and provide, one of the best ways a financial planner can help is to make sure that first and foremost, clients caring for special needs children or an adult with a disability have a life vest to keep them afloat.

Studies done by The American College of Financial Services indicate 90% of special needs and disability caregivers and family members admit retirement planning isn’t their main priority: caring for their loved one through special needs financial planning is. Of caregivers and those with guardianship who are trying to save, 70% are concerned they’ll have to stop to provide their loved one proper support. This is a noble sacrifice to make, but the truth is clients can’t help their special needs children or loved ones in the long run by jeopardizing their own financial futures. They need to take care of themselves first, so they can then take care of others who need help.

So what can financial advisors do with their expertise to help clients in these situations? Fortunately, there are some simple, common-sense goals for special needs planning any financial planner can start with.

Any family, especially those who have guardianship of special needs children or other individuals, should have an emergency savings fund that can cover three to six months of their must-have expenses. Building up a cushion like this won’t happen overnight, especially if family members aren’t high-net-worth earners, so it’s important for the financial advisor to emphasize to them how critical it is to add a small amount of savings into their budget over time. They’ll be grateful for it if an unforeseen problem strikes, like a job layoff or needed household work. In addition, while it’s difficult to estimate future care costs of those with special needs, including Medicaid or eligibility for other government benefits, every little bit helps. Encourage caregiver clients to set aside a little every month into another savings account for retirement planning, or to start building assets their special needs loved ones can access once the caregivers are no longer around.

In the spirit of planning for the future, those with guardianship of a special needs child or other individual should also look into leveraging any company 401(k) plans they might have to start stashing away money for their retirement and eventual estate planning, or use a traditional or Roth IRA. A solid goal is to set aside five percent of income to start and work up to 10 or even 15% over the next several years. When retirement age finally does come, caregiver clients will be under more financial stress than ever if they’re still caring for a special needs loved one or a person with a disability, and will need all the help they can get. Additionally, end-of-life preparations must be made, and ensuring a special needs child or adult is known legally as the beneficiary of any policies those with guardianship may have is a crucial step to take.

Finally, a commonly-used saving method among financial advisors for special needs planning and disability-affected families is a 529 ABLE account: clients should consider opening one of these accounts, or perhaps a special needs trust, after they’ve maxed out retirement planning and other savings goals. A 529A can be used, much like a normal 529 college savings plan, to prepare financially for the education of any special needs child or individual with a disability. Since many special needs children or individuals with a disability will also need to attend special schools that cost more than the average education, it’s a valuable part of government benefits caregivers can’t afford to miss out on.


Make a difference in America’s most underserved community.


The need for sound, educated special needs financial planning from a trained financial advisor is great, and with numbers of special needs children or adults diagnosed with autism or another condition or disability climbing every year, this vast pool of clients in the community requires expertise in a specialized and compassionate approach that navigates their often complex options for financial support, from government benefits to the problems of estate planning, eligibility for special programs, Medicaid and other healthcare, and more.

The American College of Financial Services is proud to offer the knowledge and expertise to aid special needs children or adults and their caregivers or those with guardianship. Visit to learn more.

Invest in your career with a professional designation.

Families caring for a loved one with special needs face unique financial challenges, and yet few financial advisors have the specialized skills to help. But when you take the three-course Chartered Special Needs Consultant® (ChSNC®) designation program, you can gain the expertise to guide these families through complex benefit and financial systems, helping them find the peace of mind they deserve.

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