Finding the Right Financial Professional

Financial Planning Tool Kit

August 24, 2018

This excerpt from the Autism Speaks Special Needs Financial Planning Tool Kit was prepared by Ryan Platt, Chartered Special Needs Consultant, and the Founder of A Special Needs Plan, Inc. 

Finding the right professional team is critical to the success of your Special Needs Plan. “Success” of a Special Needs Plan should be defined as having clarity regarding the path you need to take in order to provide a loving, supportive, and safe caregiving environment for your child during his or her entire lifetime.  This means you will need guidance on:

  • How to navigate the government benefit landscape to maximize your child’s benefits
  • How to design a Special Needs Trust
  • How taxes work inside a Special Needs Trust
  • How to determine the amount of funding your child will need over his or her lifetime
  • How to educate extended family members
  • How to communicate with those people that will be the next caregiver (Guardian) for your child

It takes a great deal of study, dedication and time to become a Specialist in all these areas; however, it is imperative to your child’s future that you find professionals who can help you satisfy this definition of “success” when it comes to having a Special Needs Plan. As families, your search for an expert in Special Needs Planning is analogous to your search for a specialist in the medical field. If a Neurologist is necessary, not just any Neurologist will do, but a Neurologist with the specific education, temperament, continual training, daily focus, and passion is necessary.

So many families search for quite some time before they find the right medical team.  It is this same persistence and focus needed to find the right Special Needs Planning professionals. Unfortunately, these professionals are few and far between and many times will not be local to your family, but the search is needed to secure your child’s future support. 

Questions to Ask

We have assembled a list of questions for families to ask professionals so that they can uncover if the professionals they are working with (attorneys, financial advisors, accountants, trust officers, etc.) are truly specialists, as this is vital in securing the proper and accurate Special Needs Plan.

  1. I know this is a highly specialized area that requires knowledge of government benefits, the legal system, tax code, distribution planning, and transfer of assets from one generation to the next.     Do you have expertise in these areas? How would I know that?
  2. What professional training have you had in the area of special needs planning? What courses have you taken? Can you show me your most recent course manual? Can you share with me the books you have read on special needs planning?
  3. Do you attend continuing education conferences on the topic of special needs planning? If so, how often? If not, how do you stay on top of the changes in the legal system, tax code, government  benefits and their impact for special needs families?
  4. When you’re considering the distribution phase of our money and the transfer phase of our money, how do you ensure our money gets to our child after we are dead? What do you do to limit the erosion of these assets to taxation?
  5. What is the maximum asset limit in order to qualify for Medicaid?
  6. What is the difference between SSI and SSDI?
  7. Can you explain the advantages, as well as the drawbacks, to an ABLE Account?
  8. Can you clearly define the planning process you use to help me secure the future of my loved one with special needs? (The professional should be able to describe to you very    easily the steps they use in serving families.)
  9. Can you provide me 3 families that you have helped in the area of special needs planning, so that I may call them to discuss their experience?
  10. Can you provide me the names of 2-3 professionals you work with in the area of special needs planning?
  11. Who do you turn to when you have questions in the special needs area?  
  12.  Are you involved in the special needs community? If so, how?  (This question will show you if the professional has his/her finger on the pulse of the special needs community by their involvement with organizations,   societies or conferences. It will also show   empathy and support for the community as  a whole.)

Making the Right Choice

When interviewing them, stay focused on their mannerisms. If the professional you are interviewing is able to answer these 12 questions with authority and you receive positive feedback from the families and professionals you contact, then you have found yourself a highly qualified special needs planner. You should move quickly to hire them. If they are not able to answer these elementary Special Needs Planning questions, keep searching!
With their help, you will begin a journey that will lead to security for you, your loved one, and your entire family. The planning process you go through will provide you answers to many questions, including, “What happens to my child when I am no longer able to care for them or when I die?”  Having the answer to this question should release a burden from your shoulders, and should provide peace of mind.

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Read more in the Autism Speaks Special Needs Financial Planning Tool Kit here.

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