Estate and Financial Planning Guide for Families of Children With Special Needs

Two parents walk down the street next to their child who is learning to ride a bicycle

Everyone, no matter how wealthy, has an estate — all of your personal belongings, money, and assets — that needs to be taken care of after you pass away. Similarly, everyone has a default estate plan outlined by their state government, but this plan likely doesn’t align with your wishes, benefit your assets, or result in the desired distribution of your wealth. However, roughly two-thirds of American adults do not have a custom will or estate plan, leaving their estate vulnerable to the whims of their state government. Creating a custom estate plan is one of the most effective ways to protect your family, your assets, and your final wishes.

Developing a custom estate plan is even more important if one of your children has a disability. Not only do you have to make detailed plans to ensure they are cared for after you’re gone, but there are legal compilations associated with leaving assets to individuals with disabilities. Further, you have to think about how you can use your estate to prepare your child for the future — all while considering the needs of your other loved ones and respecting your own personal requests and desire for your assets and remains.

Estate planning while considering your child’s current and future needs can make the process more difficult, but it certainly doesn’t make it impossible. By taking your time preparing in advance, you can overcome all of the challenges of estate planning, protect your family’s future, and ensure your final wishes are properly honored.


Preparing to Create an Estate Plan for Your Family

Estate planning can be an emotional process. Not only is it difficult to think about your own mortality and leaving your loved ones, but you also have to make significant decisions about seemingly every aspect of your life: your money, your home, your child’s care, even your own healthcare and final wishes.

It’s important — and arguably necessary — to be thoughtful, careful, and deliberate when creating an estate plan for your family. Taking time to prepare yourself, your family, and your finances beforehand will set you up for success and help you build a plan that works well for your needs.

Setting Goals

First and foremost, you and your partner have to decide what you hope to accomplish with your estate plan. It’s all but impossible to create an estate plan that works for your family if you don’t know what’s important to you. Ask yourself what your motivations and goals are. While these goals are highly personal and vary from person to person, there are some common reasons people create estate plans, such as:

  • Providing for family members after you’re gone
  • Safeguarding financial assets
  • Planning for when you are unable to make your own decisions
  • Keeping valuable items or sentimental heirlooms in the family
  • Minimizing taxes on your estate
  • Avoiding disputes between family members

Consider how your child factors into any other goals you have for estate planning. While you likely want to take care of them, you may also want to provide for your other children or loved ones. Further, you may want to convey important information about healthcare or decision-making if you become incapacitated, or otherwise ensure your final wishes are properly observed. Take some time to figure out how you can build your estate plan in a way that helps you meet these goals.

Assessing Your Finances

Before creating your plan, you have to familiarize yourself with the current state of your finances. You cannot create a solid estate plan or prepare for your child’s future if you don’t know the health of your finances. It’s also important for your relatives or adult children to know the state of your finances if they have to make financial decisions for you or distribute your assets after you pass away. Further, you don’t want to make any guesses, estimations, or errors when it comes to your estate plan; mistakes could end up having negative effects on your family after you’re gone.

You should understand your monthly expenses, all sources of income (including any benefits your child receives), and your debts and liabilities. Take stock of tangible assets, such as your real estate holdings or collectible items, as well as intangible assets, such as your 401k, stocks, or ownership or equity in a business. Simply put, make an inventory of any and all relevant financial information.

If necessary, take some time to fill in any gaps in your finances before setting aside any money for your child. This may include paying off major debts, building up an emergency fund, or starting to save for retirement. It’s important to improve the overall health of your finances so you can take care of your family and set your child up for financial success in the future.


Woman using calculator and laptop for calculating finances.

Preparing Your Finances for the Future

With a detailed understanding of your current finances, you can make smarter, more impactful decisions for your family. Financial planning is a major component of estate planning, but it can get more complicated when you’re planning to leave assets to someone with a disability. To qualify for disability benefits from the federal government, your child cannot own more than $2,000 in assets at any given time. Luckily, there are a few ways you can structure your finances that will allow you to support your child without compromising their eligibility for these benefits:

Special Needs Trusts

A special needs trust (SNT) allows an individual with a disability (the beneficiary) to enjoy assets or property held in the trust. A donor funds the trust, and then a third party (the trustee) will hold and distribute the funds to the beneficiary per the donor’s instructions. SNTs are highly beneficial for individuals with disabilities, as they provide more financial support without affecting eligibility for government benefits:

There are three main types of SNTs:

First-Party Special Needs Trust:

This type of trust holds financial assets that belong to people, such as relatives or close friends, who want to help an individual with a disability.

Third-Party Special Needs Trust:

This type of trust holds financial assets that belong to an individual with a disability. They are commonly used to hold large assets, such as an inheritance or settlement.

Pooled Special Needs Trust:

This type of trust is used for multiple beneficiaries. It can take the form of both first- and third-party trusts.

The funds of SNTs are meant to assist the beneficiary and are not available to anyone else, ensuring that your child will get the financial help they need. On the other hand, SNTs require the beneficiary to request funds from the trustee, which can limit your child’s control over their finances.

One major drawback of SNTs is their cost, as they can be quite expensive to fund. You can always put in your personal assets or gifts with the intention of contributing more as time goes on. If you or your child has received a windfall, such as an inheritance or legal settlement, you can also use that to fund the SNT. If you don’t have any assets readily available, you can fund a special needs trust with:

Life Insurance: Life insurance can be a more affordable way to fund the trust, as you make monthly payments toward the policy. You’ll have to be patient, though, since you must wait until you or your partner passes away to put the funds in the trust. This is a common strategy for funding SNTs.

Retirement Accounts: Much like a life insurance policy, you can name the trust as the beneficiary of a retirement account. Individual retirement accounts (IRA) are your best bet; a self-directed IRA may be particularly helpful, as you have greater control over the investments in your account. A nontraditional IRA, such as a real estate IRA, offers even more support because it is backed by tangible assets. An employer-sponsored 401(k) may be another option, but depending on the terms of your account, you may not have as much flexibility with how to use the funds; it could be worth opening a self-directed 401(k) instead. There are special considerations you must make and requirements you have to meet when using any kind of retirement account to fund an SNT, so make sure you confer with a financial advisor before doing so.

Real Estate: You can also use your real estate holdings, or other tangible assets, to fund an SNT. This can allow your child to continue living in their childhood home without forcing them to manage the property on their own. Leaving real estate to the trust also protects your child from people who may want to take advantage of them, as the property will not be in their name. Unfortunately, these assets are not liquid; the trustee will need to sell them to provide your child with the money they need to support themselves.

Keep in mind that, once your child passes away or the trust is legally terminated, you may have to pay back part of the SNT funds to Medicaid (though this is not required of all SNTs). Further, you’ll need to designate a reliable trustee who you have complete faith and confidence in, because they will be responsible for distributing the funds to your child per the terms of the trust. However, depending on your child’s needs, the benefits of an SNT may far outweigh the drawbacks.

ABLE Accounts

An Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account allows people with disabilities to save and earn tax-free money without impacting their eligibility for government benefits. Generally, anyone who has qualified for disability benefits before the age of 26 will qualify for an ABLE account. Your child may still qualify for an account if they meet the criteria for any of these benefits, but do not currently receive them. Further, they can be older than 26 when opening an ABLE account, as long as the onset of their disability occurred before the age of 26.

You can help your child set up and manage this account, or they can do so on their own. Anyone can contribute to the account with post-tax dollars, but $15,000 is the maximum yearly contribution. The funds from an ABLE account can be used for a variety of purposes, including education, housing, healthcare, and basic living expenses.

ABLE accounts aren’t inherently better for your child than an SNT. It all depends on your child’s needs and your financial situation. If your child is able to manage their own finances, an ABLE account may be the right choice, as they can open and hold the account on their own. If your child needs more structure or is unable to look after their own finances, an SNT is likely a better option for them, as the trustee is legally obligated to protect and distribute the funds of the trust.

Life Insurance Policies

Life insurance is a vital tool for estate planning, but it can be particularly useful when preparing for the future of your child. With the payout of a life insurance policy, you can take comfort in the fact that your child will have some support even after you’re gone.

There are two main types of life insurance:

Term Life Insurance: A term life insurance policy will provide coverage for a specific amount of time. If the covered person passes away during this time period, the beneficiary will receive a payout. Term life insurance is typically a more affordable option, but it can get costly if you choose to extend the policy once it expires.

Whole Life Insurance: A whole life insurance policy will provide coverage for the rest of your life. The beneficiary will receive a payout from this policy whenever the covered person passes away. It’s more expensive, but it does act as an investment account that will grow over time.

Though it’s more expensive, whole life insurance is likely the safer option for your child. It guarantees that they’ll receive the death benefit after you pass. Further, if the account appreciates in value, your child will have that much more support when they get the payout.

If you’d like them to receive the payout directly, you can make your child the beneficiary of your policy, but this may negatively affect their eligibility for government benefits. For this reason, you may want to make their SNT the beneficiary. Doing so will ensure they have your financial support, but will not cause them to lose their benefits.

If there’s a chance you will outlive your child, it may make sense to insure them instead. A life insurance policy can help cover the cost of medical care, funeral expenses, or lost income. In this case, you’ll probably want to go with whole life insurance. If you already have life insurance, you may be able to add a child rider to your policy.


Man creating a detailed but messy  plan.

Developing and Carrying Out Your Estate Plan

With all that in mind, you can begin to develop your estate plan in earnest. Estate planning involves making a series of important decisions about your financial assets, healthcare decisions, and final wishes. You’ll need to work with an attorney to create and finalize your plan; they’ll also be helpful in answering questions and dealing with any challenges you may encounter.

Your lawyer will offer advice when it comes to developing your plan. Be honest about your goals, especially your desire to provide for your child. With that information, they’ll be able to help you build a plan that works well for your family. Your lawyer will likely ask you to make some, if not all, of the following considerations when helping you develop your estate plan:

A will is a legal document that details how your estate should be distributed after your death, as well as who is responsible for managing and distributing it. A will may also explain how your children should be cared for if they’re under the age of 18. If you don’t have a will, the state will decide how to distribute your estate and who will have custody of your children — often, they will select close blood relatives. A will is essential if you want certain assets to go to your child who has a disability, or to their SNT or ABLE account. Without a will, the fate of your child and their financial stability will be left up to chance.

A trust allows a third party to hold assets on someone else’s behalf. A trust agreement will give you more control over how your assets are distributed, including terms that beneficiaries of the trust must meet to receive their assets. SNTs are only one type of trust; depending on the state of your assets, you may want to create another trust agreement to account for other assets.

A declaration of guardianship will appoint someone as your guardian, should you ever need one. A guardian protects your wellbeing and property while you’re still alive. They have the legal authority to make decisions for you or your property in the event that you are unable to do so yourself. Appointing a guardian will ensure that you and your estate are properly cared for if you become incapacitated. You may have to go through a court process to successfully appoint a guardian. Be careful when designating or declaring a guardian; depending on what you specify, they may be able to make decisions for your child.

A power of attorney is a legal document that authorizes another person to act or make decisions on your behalf related to legal matters, medical care, and finances. It can be used if you are unable to make decisions on your own. This is a more private way to appoint a caretaker or overseer than a guardianship, as it does not require any court proceedings.

Simply put, this is the process of estate planning for your business. If you own a business, you’ll have to create a business succession plan to determine what happens to your organization when you retire, die, or become incapacitated. In this plan, you can choose a successor (or multiple successors) and outline a transition plan, so the transfer goes smoothly. You may also want to complete a business valuation to assess its worth, in case you or one of your successors decides to sell the business.

A HIPAA release form allows you to share your private health information with other individuals and organizations. It’s an essential document if someone else will take an active role in your medical care or needs to make health decisions for you. For instance, if you’ve given powers of attorney to one of your adult children, you’ll probably still need a HIPAA authorization in your estate plan so they can communicate directly with medical professionals about your condition, treatment, or healthcare needs.

An advance medical directive outlines your preferences for medical treatment. It guides loved ones and medical professionals to make healthcare decisions that align with your wishes if you are unable to make those decisions for yourself. It can also be used to appoint someone as a surrogate decision-maker. An advance medical directive will typically explain your wishes related to issues like pain relief, life-saving measures, and resuscitation or intubation. Taking the time to explain your medical wishes will help prevent any agonizing decisions for your family in the future and make sure that the appropriate party is in charge of making said decisions. If you aren’t specific, decisions may automatically fall to your child, which may not be in their best interest.

You need to specify if you want to donate all or part of your body to science after you die. If you donate your whole body, it may be used for a variety of purposes, such as medical research, surgical training, or anatomy lessons. Similarly, you also need to decide if you want to become an organ donor — though this doesn’t guarantee that your organs will be eligible for transplant. You may be able to register as both a whole body and an organ donor, though if your organs are viable for donation, that will likely take precedence. Make sure your family members understand and respect your wishes, so there is no confusion after you pass. Further, you should get in touch with the medical facility or organization you’d like to donate your body to so everyone is prepared when the time comes.

Whether you want to leave any anatomical gifts, you’ll also need to decide how your remains will be handled after you die. Consider if you’d like an earth burial, cremation, entombment, or another form of disposal. You can also go over your memorial wishes and funeral plans if you have any, so your family knows what arrangements to make for you.

Finally, you may also want to write a letter of instruction to provide an overview of your overall estate plan. It isn’t a legally binding document, so it isn’t a necessity for your estate plan, but it may be a helpful way to simplify and summarize your estate as a whole. You can also include personal messages to your loved ones in a letter of instruction, which your child and other family members will likely appreciate.

Of course, everyone has a unique estate and therefore a unique estate plan. Depending on your assets and your wishes, you may not need to make all of these plans. These are simply important areas for you and your family to consider when creating your plan. Ultimately, you should do whatever works for you and makes the most sense for your family.

Be as thorough and specific as possible in all aspects of your plan. Since you’re trying to ensure your wishes are met and your child is properly cared for, you can’t leave anything up to chance. Don’t assume legal professionals or your family members will automatically know what to do with your estate. Omitting details or being vague in your instructions will lead to confusion; lengthy, costly legal proceedings; or tension between family members. With more information and instructions, you can avoid these issues and make sure your plan is properly carried out.

Necessary Documents for Estate Plans

To create your estate plan, you’ll need to provide an abundance of legal and financial information. When you meet with your lawyer to start your plan, make sure you can provide:

Personal Identification Documents: Bring any and all important identification documents, including your Social Security card, drivers’ license, birth certificate, and passport. You’ll also need to provide the personal and contact information (including names, addresses, and phone numbers) of individuals you choose to leave assets to, as well as anyone you name as an executor, guardian, power of attorney, trustee, or another overseer in your plan.

Insurance Documents: You may need copies of relevant insurance documents, such as your health, homeowners’, or car insurance. However, it’s especially important to have a detailed copy of your life insurance policy if you have one.

Financial Documents: This includes bank statements, investment account information (including stocks, bonds, or treasury notes), retirement account information, and tax documents. Bring any documents related to debts you owe, such as your mortgage. Don’t forget proof of any alternative or nontraditional investments. Provide information about tangible assets, such as antiques, collectible items, art, jewelry, and family heirlooms. You may also want to create an inventory of your personal property, noting the value of each item. Make sure you share information about safe-deposit boxes you have, as well as their contents and the value of those contents.

Real Estate Documents: Bring information about your real estate holdings, including your home, land, rental properties, commercial properties, and vacation homes. Be sure to provide information about any co-owners, outstanding mortgage balances, or any other information that may affect the value or ownership of these properties.

Business Documents: You’ll need to provide information about any businesses you own or have interests in. Note the size and structure of the business, and share contact information for any of your business partners.

Legal Documents: Don’t forget about marriage certificates, prenuptial or postnuptial agreements, divorce papers, and any other important legal documents that could impact the contents and distribution of your estate.

Estate Documents: Bring any documents related to your existing estate plan. You also need documents related to any inheritance you have been left, or that you will receive in the future..

Remember, every estate plan is different. You may not need all of this information, or you may need to bring additional documents that may affect your estate. The more information you can share with your attorney, the better — it will make the process of estate planning that much smoother and more effective.

With all that taken care of, you can relax. There are still many ways you can help your child prepare for adulthood and for life without you, but you can take comfort in the fact that legally speaking, your child’s future has been secured with your estate plan.


Parents hands and baby feet.

Preparing Your Special Needs Child for the Future

Your estate plan is vital to protecting your wishes and finances, but it isn’t the only way you can prepare your child and your family for the future. During and after the estate planning process, think about the various ways you can support your child’s transition into adulthood:

Letter of Intent

A letter of intent is used to describe how your child should be cared for when you or your partner is unable to do so. No one else knows exactly what your child needs in terms of ongoing care, even if you’ve already selected a trustworthy caregiver who has been involved in your child’s life.

Be clear and thorough in your letter. You’ll need to detail their health needs, medical history, and information about their disability in your letter. You may also want to include information about any major life events, their family history, their educational history and goals, their employment history and goals, and any government benefits or aid they receive.

In addition, you should also share personal information about their social or extracurricular activities, religious beliefs or background, daily schedule, food preferences and restrictions, and other behavioral information. This supplementary information will give their caregiver a better understanding of who your child is as a person and set them up to provide the best care possible.

Guardianship or Conservatorship

You may have to appoint a guardian (if they are still a minor) or a conservator (if they are an adult) to care for your child after you pass away. The main types of guardianship include:

Full Guardianship or Conservatorship: Full guardianship gives the caretaker full authority over your child and their life. The caretaker is responsible for providing for your child and protecting their wellbeing. This includes making large decisions related to finances, healthcare, living arrangements, education, and employment. Full guardianship is typically reserved for situations where your child is unable to make decisions for themselves, such as when they are a legal minor or have some kind of mental illness.

Limited Guardianship or Conservatorship: Limited guardianship gives the caretaker some authority over your child and only certain aspects of their life. This likely includes making larger decisions related to healthcare and finances, but may not require the caretaker to be as involved with day-to-day activities. Limited guardianship can transition into full guardianship if needed.

Guardian Advocacy: A guardian advocate is a type of guardianship created specifically to support individuals who have a developmental disability. This form of guardianship is more focused on your child’s ability to make decisions. Depending on the type of advocacy, a guardian advocate can make decisions related to your child (such as living arrangements or healthcare), to their property (such as managing property or lawsuits), or both.

Supported Decision-Making: Supported decision-making allows your child to make choices about their life with the help of personal advisors (often relatives, close friends, and caregivers). Your child can select their own supporters, who help your child understand their choices so they can make informed decisions about their life. Unlike guardianship or conservatorship, your child retains the right to make their own decisions.

If your child is still a minor, you should take the time to designate a guardian in your estate plan. Regardless of their disability or health needs, your child will need an adult to care for them if you are unable to do so. If your child is an adult, consider whether they need a conservator at all, and, if so, what type of conservatorship would be appropriate for them. It may be appropriate to include your child in this discussion so they are fully informed and know what to expect in the future.

Government Benefits

Make sure your child is receiving any and all government benefits they qualify for. Both children and adults with disabilities are eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). If your child is not yet receiving SSI, help them apply as soon as you can. Keep in mind that, if your child is a legal minor, they will need to reapply for SSI once they reach the age of 18.

If your child is a legal adult who has been employed, they may also be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). They must have worked and paid into Social Security for a certain amount of time to qualify for SSDI. It’s worth noting that, due to the employment requirements, SSDI can be more difficult to qualify for than SSI. If you or your partner has a disability and meets the employment requirements, you may be eligible for SSDI, and your child may be covered under your insurance.

Depending on your area, there may be other sources of financial support you can secure for your child. Look into any benefits, programs, and services that your state government offers to individuals with disabilities. Your local government may also provide some kind of assistance.

Health Insurance

While they can stay on your insurance until the age of 26, it’s essential for your child to have their own healthcare coverage as an adult. Disability aside, your child will almost certainly need to see a provider for other health issues at some point in the future.

Health insurance can be difficult to navigate and secure, but there are several options available to your child:

Medicare is offered by the federal government to people over the age of 65, though younger individuals with certain disabilities may still be eligible. Your child may be able to get coverage for doctor visits, hospital visits, and prescription medication. There are some monthly premiums associated with Medicare, depending on the extent of your coverage. If your child receives SSDI, they are already eligible for Medicare.

Medicaid is offered by the government to certain Americans, including low-income individuals, people with disabilities, seniors, and pregnant women. Though the federal government requires some mandatory coverage, each state has its own Medicaid program with slightly different coverage options. If your child receives SSI, they are already eligible for Medicaid.

Your child can always purchase private health insurance. This is the most expensive option, but you may be able to find a more comprehensive or customized plan for your child.

Opening an HSA is another way to cover healthcare costs. This is a good option if your child does not need to get healthcare on a regular basis. An HSA can be used to cover a variety of medical expenses, including copays, health equipment, and prescription medications. Further, in some cases, you or other family members may be able to make contributions to your child’s accounts.

If your child is able and willing to work as an adult, they may be able to get health insurance through their employer. Depending on the terms of their employment, healthcare may be fully or partially subsidized.

Your state or local government may provide healthcare coverage or subsidies for people with disabilities. A local nonprofit or charitable organization may also be able to offer some financial assistance or support.

You may not be able to assist your child with every healthcare issue they face, predict changes in their circumstances, or control any future updates to healthcare legislation. However, you can help them or their caregiver find the best insurance for their current needs and make sure they understand the other choices available if they want to change their coverage in the future.

Long-Term Care

Similarly, you need to consider your child’s long-term care needs and include them in your estate plan. You can’t leave things up to chance or assume a family member will be able to provide or pay for care. It’s great if one of their siblings, cousins, or other relatives is willing to care for them; not only is it more affordable, but they’re also already familiar with your child’s disability and health needs. However, care expectations and responsibilities need to be communicated clearly and in advance — otherwise, you risk straining familial relationships and compromising your child’s care.

Look into other types of long-term care that are appropriate for your child. A professional caregiver may be helpful, but that certainly isn’t the only option. If your child needs a significant amount of support, an assisted living or community-based setting may provide the right balance. Day programs offer a comparable amount of structure without sacrificing your child’s autonomy. Long-term care facilities are also an option if your child needs a high level of support, though research suggests that people with disabilities have more positive health outcomes in community, rather than institutional, settings.

Though some types are more expensive than others, all forms of long-term care can be costly and may not be covered by your child’s health insurance. To help with these expenses, you may want to purchase long-term care insurance for your child. It will increase your monthly expenses now but may save you and your family money in the future. With a long-term care policy, you can take comfort in the fact that your child can still get the support they need without shouldering the financial burden all on their own.

Living Arrangements

When planning for your child’s long-term care, you should also plan out their living arrangements. Think about your child’s ability to care for themselves, pay for housing costs, and live independently when making these plans.

If your child can live on their own, take steps to set them up for long-term success. They should be able to pay for living necessities, hold a job, and navigate transportation options. Further, they should consider whether they can handle the emotional aspects of independent living. This includes being able to set and adhere to personal boundaries (such as with roommates and property managers), feeling comfortable away from you and your family, and being able to manage stress effectively.

If housing is costly in your area, your child may benefit from a Section 8 housing voucher. This is a federal program that offers affordable housing to low-income individuals, seniors, and people with disabilities. Your child will have to pay for about one-third of their rent, and the housing voucher will pay for the remainder. It can take time to apply and get approved for Section 8 housing, but they will likely be eligible if they already qualify for SSI or SSDI.

If your child cannot live independently, there are several other options open to them:

Family Members: Your child may be able to live with a relative or close family friend. Like having a family member acting as a caregiver, this can put some strain on your relationships if you aren’t careful. However, living with a relative can be highly beneficial for your child, as they are already familiar with them and their needs.

Supportive Group Home: There are many group homes where people with disabilities can live together. Depending on the home or program, there may be workers or counselors who also live at the house or staff members who come in during the day. This provides a highly social environment that works well for individuals who don’t need specialized care but cannot live alone.

Assisted Living: Similar to group homes, assisted living facilities provide some independence while still offering more support. Generally, in an assisted living environment, your child will get more hands-on care, such as cooking, cleaning, or bathing. This support is typically focused more on daily acts of living rather than medical care.

Skilled Nursing: A skilled nursing facility offers the highest level of care and supervision to residents, assisting with both daily acts of living and healthcare needs. This can be incredibly expensive and is likely necessary only if your child needs round-the-clock care.

Remember that your child’s living arrangements may need to change over time. For instance, they may try living alone and discover they need more support and care. Do your best to guide them through these changes while you’re still with them so they’re better equipped to navigate them alone (or with their caregiver) in the future.

Education

Your child may have a disability, but they can still pursue higher educational opportunities if they want and are able to. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, almost 20% of students in postsecondary education have some kind of disability. Virtually all colleges and universities have support services designed specifically for students with disabilities. Further, they’ll be able to make accommodations to help your child with their education.

Education for your child may not translate into the traditional or stereotypical college experience. Instead, they might benefit from taking community college courses while living at home or enrolling in an online degree program. If college isn’t the right fit for your child, they could also look into a vocational program to prepare for a career in the skilled trades.

Employment

Employment opportunities are similarly abundant for individuals with disabilities. If your child pursues any type of additional education, it can help prepare them to enter the workforce or field of their choosing. If your child doesn’t know what type of job they’d like, they can explore different positions or fields to find what type of work they enjoy. In addition to standard job searching websites, your child can search for employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities at USA.gov, abilityJOBS, or disABLEDperson.

It’s important to consider how your child’s employment may affect their government benefits. It is possible to work and receive SSI or SSDI, but there are limitations to how much income your child can earn. Participating in a Social Security work incentive program can raise or waive these income caps. Many of these programs were created to help adults with disabilities become self-supporting, so they no longer need benefits. There is a trial period where your child can test their ability to work and maintain employment; during this time, they can still receive benefits regardless of how much they earn. If they can’t work because their health worsens, they can continue receiving benefits after their employment ends.

Transportation

Depending on your child’s disability, transportation may not be a major issue. Many adults with disabilities can drive themselves. If possible, try to prepare your child for driving in advance. In addition to teaching them how to drive, you may want to help them secure a parking permit, or find or make an adapted vehicle. They will still have to navigate driving and car ownership on their own, but teaching them about these issues now will equip your child with the skills and tools they’ll need in the future

If your child can’t or doesn’t want to drive, there are still transportation options available. You can always look into public transit or ridesharing services. Further, there may be transportation services for individuals with disabilities offered by a nonprofit organization in your area, or by your state or local government. Use the Eldercare Locator and the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center to find transportation resources in your area.

Additional Resources for Families with Special Needs Children

For more information on estate planning or additional assistance in supporting your family, consult the following resources and organizations: