• 11 Essential Elements of a Successful Financial Plan For Families With Special Needs Members

    (Because families with Special Needs Members have more to do)

    1. Prepare a guide for the care of your loved one with special needs.  This non-legal document may be the most valuable thing you leave behind.
    2. Surround your family with advocates and fiduciaries.  Working with professionals who will put your family’s interests first will greatly improve your success.
    3. Get registered for all the services and benefits you are entitled to receive.  If you live in Illinois, be sure to register your child with special needs on the Prioritization of Urgency of Needs for Services (PUNS) list.  PUNS is the IL waiting list for services.
    4. Use Supplemental Needs Trusts rather than disinheriting your special needs family member.  Quality estate planning documents drafted by an expert in the area of special needs law are critical.
    5. Carefully choose the guardian, trustee, and future care giver for your special needs family member.  Give strong consideration to the skills needed for each role and do not assume that the closest relative is the best choice.
    6. Review beneficiary designations and account titles.  Titles and beneficiary designations control how assets will pass – proper naming can ensure no disruption in benefits.
    7. Coordinate your planning with your relatives’ planning.  Make sure your extended family knows your plans and does not jeopardize government benefits being received.
    8. Assume that housing and employment will be significant challenges and begin planning for them as soon as possible.  Transitioning into adulthood is many times more difficult for an individual with special needs.
    9. Create a safety plan that focuses on the challenges your special needs family member may have in the event of an emergency.  Practice your responses to fires, floods, tornadoes, and other potential disasters and alert your local public safety officers (fire, police, and paramedics) to your child’s challenges.
    10. Seek other families facing similar challenges in your community and nationally.  The support and information you will provide each other is invaluable.
    11. Set time aside to connect with your spouse; make sure you understand each other’s feelings; get needed respite. Vacations may feel selfish but they allow you to relax and re-energize. Good communication helps maintain marriages.
    These tips are provided solely as a reference and are not intended to replace counseling from qualified professionals. Please contact Mike Walther if you would like more information about Oak Wealth Advisors and our services.

  • 10 Common special needs Financial planning mistakes

    1. Failing to plan for assets to go into a special needs trust at the parents’ death.  In order to maintain Medicaid eligibility, assets need to flow to a special needs trust rather than directly to the person with special needs.
    2. Purchasing term life insurance to fund the special needs trust.  Term insurance is not a good solution for a permanent need. Some form of permanent insurance should be purchased.
    3. Drafting the special needs trust so that it is implemented upon the death of the second parent.  It is best if the trust is operational immediately so that there is a place for gifts or bequests.
    4. Funding 529 Plans or other college savings plans in the name of the child with special needs. It is better to fund higher education expenses using an ABLE Account or a special needs trust. The 529 Plan becomes a countable asset of the child in determining Medicaid eligibility.
    5. Ignoring federal and state benefits. Regardless of your level of wealth, having your loved one with special needs qualify for federal and state benefits provides both a safety net and an opportunity for them to access programs available only to those who meet eligibility requirements.
    6. Assuming the same family member should be the executor, trustee and guardian. You want people with the right skills for each role. The best solution may be three different people or more likely some professionals.
    7. Not communicating with all family members about your planning. Proper communication with relatives about why you have a special needs trust will eliminate problems of gifts going directly to the child with special n4eeds and jeopardizing the governmental benefits.
    8. Failing to communicate in detail how someone should care for the individual with special needs after the parents or caregivers are gone. Every individual with special needs should have a care guide. This non-legal document may be the most beneficial thing you leave behind for your family member with special needs.
    9. Parents neglecting themselves in their efforts to provide for their child with special needs. Parents should schedule some time to get away, to re-energize, and to do things they enjoy.
    10. Overlooking the most important things. The time and money spent on doctors, therapists, medicines, legal and financial planning are all valuable. However, it is even more important to hug and kiss your child every day. Knowing that they are loved is one of the most important things in advancing their development.
    These recommendations are provided solely as a reference and are not intended to replace counseling from qualified professionals.  Please contact Oak Wealth Advisors if you would like more information about our services.

  • Top 10 Recommendations for Optimizing Success in School

    1. Establish Relationships. Teachers, social workers, psychiatrists, and administrators will be part of your family’s lives for many years. Do whatever you can to foster positive relationships with them.
    2. Do Not Allow Little Problems To Develop Into Big Problems. Staying proactive and communicating regularly can prevent the confrontations that develop when minor issues are allowed to persist without being addressed.
    3. Accept Mutual Responsibility. You can hold the schools to high standards but you must be willing to work with your child at home and share updates if you expect goals and milestones to be met on schedule.
    4. Agree Upon Communication Type And Frequency. Phone calls are difficult to complete during the day and they are not easily documented. Email, if not excessive, usually works wonders at informing and providing a record which can be tracked over time.
    5. Seek Knowledge. Well informed families tend to have children that have more success in school than those who do not work to educate themselves about available resources and their rights to access them.
    6. Share Praise Frequently. School staff members who know that their efforts are appreciated are naturally going to be more receptive to new ideas and be more positively predisposed toward your child
    7. Request IEP Drafts In Advance Of Meetings. Knowing in advance what the school has seen in your child’s development before your IEP meeting is beneficial in many ways. You will have time to absorb any bad news and to generate ideas for alternative approaches to challenges
    8. Keep Good Records. Both for reminding you of the successes that have been achieved and for being a reference when issues arise, detailed records have great value. They are also essential if problems escalate and relationships become more adversarial.
    9. Prepare Well In Advance For The First Day Of Each School Year. Introducing your child to his or her teachers and staff at a less stressful time before the school year starts will ease the beginning of the new year.
    10. Plan For Transition Before Your School Initiates The Discussion. Thinking ahead about adult goals and life skills as early as middle school will allow for a more productive transition process and increased clarity in goals at the start of high school so that the final years of school can be as productive as possible.
    These recommendations are provided solely as a reference and are not intended to replace counseling from qualified professionals.  Please contact Oak Wealth Advisors if you would like more information about our services.

  • Top 10 Recommendations for Families with Children with Autism

    1. Do not underestimate the challenges of raising multiple children when one or more have Autism – only parents facing the task truly understand the difficulties
    2. Find a balance between doing “normal” activities with your Autistic child and therapies and treatments – the “normal” activities are good for you and for them
    3. Recognize that structure is your friend – summer is often the most challenging season because kids are not in school
    4. Utilize all local resources – many fantastic organizations and agencies exist but you have to ask around to find them
    5. Appreciate great baby sitters – finding one in the first place is very difficult
    6. Understand that the primary reason for vacations is relaxation – going to distant locations is often a tremendous challenge while local vacations can provide valuable respite
    7. Record everything related to your child with special needs – documentation is critical for supporting your child’s current and future needs
    8. Think ahead as much as possible – it is easier to live day to day but you need to plan for the future
    9. Celebrate the little successes – everyone has successes and they should all be recognized regardless of their magnitude
    10. Share your experiences with others – networking with other parents facing similar challenges helps everyone who participates
    These recommendations are provided solely as a reference and are not intended to replace counseling from qualified professionals.  Please contact Oak Wealth Advisors if you would like more information about our services.

  • Top 10 Recommendations for Families with Children with Down Syndrome

    1. Schedule special one-on-one time with each of your children so that they all feel special and appreciated
    2. Be flexible and prepared to adapt as your child’s needs change
    3. Set realistic goals with your child and help him/her reach his/her potential
    4. Celebrate milestones and achievements – they may be different than what society glorifies but they are no less meaningful
    5. Involve yourself in your child’s academic settings as there seems to be a positive correlation between increased parental involvement in school and the academic successes of their children with Down syndrome
    6. Seek job opportunities for your child with Down syndrome that include social interaction – for many, the jobs with the highest levels of satisfaction involve human interaction
    7. Investigate available resources in your community and school district and be an advocate for your child getting the services you want him/her to have
    8. Do not respond immediately with an attorney when you encounter difficulties with your school district, but be prepared to engage one at any time
    9. Take care of yourself – date nights and other sources of respite are beneficial for your health and well being
    10. Keep your focus on what is important – you can waste valuable time and resources on trivial matters if you do not prioritize your efforts
    These recommendations are provided solely as a reference and are not intended to replace counseling from qualified professionals.  Please contact Oak Wealth Advisors if you would like more information about our services.

  • Top 10 Recommendations for a Successful Transition To Adulthood

    1. Start planning as soon as possible. School systems typically begin planning for transition with families when the child turns 14. Many agencies and advisory groups recommend starting 4 or 5 years earlier.
    2. Focus on transition planning in IEPs. The goals and strengths of the individual should be identified and helping them reach those goals, whether with standard course work or more specialized training, should be the focus of the plan.
    3. Determine if guardianship is appropriate. Guardianship requires a court appointment once the individual has turned 18. Independence needs to be weighed against safety and security. Full or limited guardianship are both options, as are limited powers of attorney for health care and property matters.
    4. Find an attorney who specializes in special needs planning. Having a knowledgeable advocate to guide you through the issues and connect you to community resources can be invaluable.
    5. Evaluate post-secondary or vocational education opportunities. None of us stop learning when we move on from high school. Additional course work may improve employment opportunities and increase independence.
    6. Ensure eligibility for government programs and benefits. At transition, all the programs that were delivered through the school system stop. Medicaid eligibility makes more programs available for young adults. Assume that applying for either SSI or SSDI will take longer than you expect.
    7. Be creative, be resourceful, and be realistic about employment. Most young adults with special needs are unable to find full-time paid employment. Targeting positions that utilize an individual’s strengths and interests will increase your chances for success as will identifying firms who have histories of hiring individuals with special needs.
    8. Seek opportunities for exercise and social interaction. Illinois has Special Recreation Associations (SRAs) that provide adult programs. Finding opportunities regardless of where you live is important for maintaining or improving physical and mental health.
    9. Locate appropriate housing. While independent living is often the goal, identifying and pursuing the optimal living arrangement for your young adult should be your priority. Start early as many preferred locations have long waiting lists.
    10. Find time for respite. Transition takes its toll on the whole family. Often the adult family member with special needs requires more time and attention as an adult than he/she did while in school. It is important for everyone to get a break from the challenges of caring for a young adult.
    These recommendations are provided solely as a reference and are not intended to replace counseling from qualified professionals.  Please contact Oak Wealth Advisors if you would like more information about our services.

  • 10 New Year’s Resolutions for Parents of Special Needs Children

    1. I will take more time for myself because I recognize that if I am not at my best, I cannot be the best parent possible.
    2. I will celebrate as many small achievements throughout the year as I can observe.
    3. I will schedule some “normal” activities that get my entire family out into the community.
    4. I will contact at least one of my political representatives and share a personal story with them and let them know what services are critical for my family.
    5. I will help two other families by sharing stories, information, and recommendations with them.
    6. I will take three deep breaths before reacting when our family encounters ignorance in a store, at a restaurant, or elsewhere in the community.
    7. I will get more comfortable with asking others for help.
    8. I will try to make it easier for others who want to help us to do so in a manner that will be welcomed by our family.
    9. I will find two new sources of trusted information to assist me with my activities or my family with our special challenges.
    10. I will hug and kiss my children every day.

    Implement as many of these resolutions as you can. However, if you can only do one, make it #10.

    These recommendations are provided solely as a reference and are not intended to replace counseling from qualified professionals.  Please contact Oak Wealth Advisors if you would like more information about our services.