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How to plan for the care of your special needs child beyond your lifetime

Special needs children have many specific things to be taken care of by parents. While typical succession planning can be taken care of by a Will and an executor, a special needs child might just require a trust.

June 30, 2022 / 07:36 AM IST

A lot of times we worry about what will happen to our child/children if we are not around: who will take care of them? It is a passing thought that is overtaken by our busy schedules and, of course, addressing the needs of the child. We do our best to ensure that our child is well taken care of at all times. This becomes even more important when one has a special needs child. The parent of a special needs child knows s/he needs continuous care and support, unlike a normal child.

Life is finite and no one knows the exact date and time of their departure from this world. Thus, it becomes very important for the parent of a special needs child to ensure that everything is in place to secure the child’s future in the event of an untimely demise.

Make a will

This is the first step. To begin with, you need to first collate data on all your assets, such as where the assets are located, where documents pertaining to properties are kept, where you hold investments etc, so that the assets can be identified easily after your passing.

Appoint an executor

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Now that you have the data, you need to think of a person who can act as executor of your will. He will be the person who will get a probate on your will and take care of the distribution of the assets in the manner specified in the will. Ideally, the executor should be a person younger than you. Then, the most crucial point is to mention who will be the guardian of your child. This person has to be informed and should be ready to take on the responsibility of the child.

Care of the child is a big responsibility that you will be entrusting to the guardian. You need to ensure that this person is fully equipped to handle it. You may want to think of creating a trust either during your lifetime or via your will so that your assets can be consolidated in one place.

Get the help of a professional to draft your instructions properly and sign on all the pages along with the proper date. Also, the will has to be witnessed by at least two or more witnesses. The witnesses cannot be beneficiaries of the will.

A trust could work better for a special needs child

As suggested earlier, one can think of creating a trust either during his lifetime or through the will. Either way, a parent has to ensure that the appropriate trustee is appointed to handle the work of the trust. Many a time, a parent would want a sibling or some close relative based in a different city or jurisdiction to act as the trustee.

While doing so, one needs to ponder over issues such as whether this person can travel to where the child is located, or whether this person can really handle such a responsibility by taking time out from his/her busy schedule, or knows the child and/or the issues the child is dealing with. It might be better to take this call as a practical decision rather than an emotional one.

The trustee and the guardian may be different people, in which case you need to mention who is the beneficiary of the trust and what are the objectives of the trust, all within the trust document. While doing so, mention the needs of the child that have to be taken care of, such as medical, education, maintenance needs etc. Also, to guide the trustee and/or guardian, one should not hesitate in mentioning things such as the favourite book of the child, what calms the child, who the doctor is, and other such information that will ease their way in caring for the child.

When you are forming the trust, you should become the trustee and experience the work that is involved. If required, write it down along with the things that you do for the child. This exercise will help you in appointing the appropriate trustee/guardian.

Ensure continuity of trustees

While drafting the trust document, one should not miss out on the succession of the guardian and/or the trustee. Also, mention who will be taking care of the investments and taxation of the trust. It will be beneficial to mention the name of the firm or who will decide on the firm that will take care of the taxation of the trust.

One may also want to think about appointing a corporate as a trustee, and an executor who can take care of the administrative work of the trust and will. The individuals you want to appoint as trustees can become the guardians and look after the child by simply appointing a corporate as a trustee to oversee the administrative work of the will or the trust.

Ensure that you have clearly defined the rights and duties of the trustees so that they can execute the trust properly. Since you are making a plan that is expected to last beyond your lifetime for the benefit of your loved one, it is advisable to take professional help to draw up this plan and ensure that it is executed successfully.
Neha Pathak is Head, Trust & Estate Planning, Motilal Oswal Private Wealth
first published: Jun 30, 2022 07:36 am
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