Is there a diagnosis of autism for your loved one? Are you now considering creating an estate plan with your autistic loved one in mind?  We have 3 important planning tips in our blog for you to consider. We realize that the specific needs of  autistic individuals can vary greatly depending on the severity of their autism, however, many people with autism need assistance throughout their entire lives. 

Planning early for your loved one with autism is crucial. Whether you are the parent, grandparent, or sibling of your loved one, part of your role is to make sure there is a solid legal, financial and medical foundation in place. 

Each day in our office we work with families and the challenges they face. We understand that it can be hard to start this type of estate planning, let alone to think about a time when you may not be able to provide care yourself. Below are 3 planning tips to help you start the estate planning and special needs planning process.

  1. If your autistic loved one is still a minor, be aware that you will not always have the authority to make decisions for him or her unless you begin planning now. In Florida, when a minor with autism reaches the age of majority, he or she becomes a legal adult. Even if his or her developmental, cognitive or mental disabilities are severe, in the eyes of the law your child will be deemed an adult. Without planning, you will lose your legal authority.  In fact, right now we encourage you to start making a list of what your autistic loved one can and cannot do.  Also include any information regarding medical, educational, financial, legal and vocational decisions. Work with your Florida estate planning attorney and share with him the abilities of your loved one to make rational decisions, choices related to self-care and to be able to communicate for him or herself.  
  2. Know that if there is a need for a guardianship that the court may consider a less restrictive guardianship since your autistic loved one may be able to make some decisions. However, the most important element to guardianship is ensuring that your loved one is safe. Although you may not want to proceed to obtain guardianship over your autistic loved one, we would encourage you to talk to your Florida estate planning attorney first. You do not want to be in the situation in the future where a decision needs to be made that requires legal authority, and you do not have it. In fact, you should definitely discuss with your Florida attorney who can take over your guardianship role when/if you can no longer handle the responsibility. With your Florida estate planning attorney, you can create the legal documents you need together with a letter of intent. This letter is a document that will act as a roadmap for guardians and trustees to navigate medical, financial and legal decisions once you are no longer able to act.
  3. You should ask your Florida estate planning attorney about a special needs trust. He will make you aware of the different types of special needs trusts you can create for your autistic loved one. A key benefit of special needs trust planning is it allows the disabled person to not lose access to key government benefits, such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  If your autistic loved one inherited directly, without a special needs trust in place, your loved one could be at risk of losing his or her benefits until the money received is spent down on his or her care.

The most important factor to follow in planning for a loved one with autism is to ensure he or she has enough support throughout the remainder of his or her life. Ensuring your loved one is taken care of, even when you can no longer be there to assist, is critical. Do not wait for a crisis to plan forward with your Florida estate planning attorney.

We know you may have questions about this, and many other, estate planning issues. At the Perlin Estate Planning & Probate our credentials enable us to provide a multi-disciplinary approach to our legal services.  By building relationships with our clients, we are also able to understand each client’s needs and desires, and we support such goals through thoughtful, comprehensive planning techniques. We encourage you to contact us and schedule a meeting.