By Linda Cammuso

In the United States, the month of April has recognized National Autism Awareness Month since 1970, providing a forum to educate the public about the issues surrounding autism. Today, according to, the disorder affects one in 110 children in the United States, with boys being four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed on the spectrum. The percentage of those with autism has increased 57 percent from 2002 to 2006, prompting The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to refer to autism a “national public health crisis.”

National Autism Awareness month serves as a reminder to parents of an autistic child, or a child with a different developmental challenge or disability, just how important it is to lay the groundwork to protect their child in the event of their death or inability to care for their child.

Estate planning for families with a disabled or special needs individual starts with traditional estate planning, but goes further to consider the complicated federal and state laws and regulations that govern the programs and benefits for which the individual may now or in the future be eligible.  The use of “special needs trusts” allows the family to provide a comfortable standard of living for the individual without interruption of benefits.

Special Needs Planning also creates an opportunity for you to consider – perhaps for the first time – other factors that may be necessary to secure your loved one’s physical and financial future. For instance, you may never have considered that:

  • Government benefits and entitlement are  at serious risk without proper planning;
  • Needs-based programs such as SSI and Medicaid will not necessarily meet your child’s needs when you are gone;
  • If a well-meaning grandparent or other relative leaves money to your child, it may create problems with eligibility for medical assistance or other government benefits; there are ways for you and others to make contributions for the benefit of your child without disrupting your child’s benefits and well-being;
  • When your child reaches age 18, you may need court permission to continue your legal, financial and healthcare advocacy for your child; and
  • All parents in this life situation, whether low or high income, need to carefully plan to protect their child’s future.

Early detection, intervention, education and medical advances all contribute to longer and sometimes more independent lifestyles for people who are disabled or developmentally challenged – making long-term planning for parents and families more vital than ever before. National Autism Awareness Month covers a broad range of issues in dealing with special needs, and it reminds all of us that failure to plan could lead to unfortunate and unnecessary consequences. Special Needs and Disability Planning is the necessary solution.

A qualified estate planning attorney can help you through this challenging process; if you’ve yet to take this important step… make the call today.

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