Special Needs Children and Divorce Settlements

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Divorce is hard enough under the best of circumstances.  But, when special needs children are involved, the situation becomes even more complicated.  While you and your spouse may be focused on how to divide financial assets and resolve custody issues, other critical matters may get overlooked.

In the midst of a divorce, do not to forget the following:

A.  Make sure to inform your attorney or mediator that you have a special needs child.  It’s important to mention what his/her disabilities are.  Is there an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in place for him or her?  Is your child classified as having Autism Spectrum Disorder?  This information may impact the terms of your divorce decree regarding a variety of issues including shared custody and child support payments.

B.  If you have not already done so, make sure to discuss a Special Needs Trust with your attorney.  The assets, including child support payments, that are placed in this Trust (or bequeathed to this Trust) can be used to supplement government assistance for which your child is eligible.  This is critical!  Monies given or bequeathed directly to your child may exceed the financial limit that your child can have under certain government programs and may make your child ineligible for government aid.

C. Be sure to review all of your beneficiary designation forms (e.g., 401K’s, life insurance, etc.).  Beneficiary Designations are often overlooked and not updated following a divorce.  Make sure that any monies you wish to leave your child are bequeathed to the Trust.  And remember, as time goes by and you update these forms or have new ones, always make sure that the Trust, and not your child, is the stated beneficiary.

Getting Legal Help:

There are different types of Special Needs Trusts that can be established.  So, it’s imperative that you work with an attorney who specializes in this area.

Estate Planning Attorney, Elga A. Goodman, can work with you to select the proper Special Needs Trust, and to structure that Trust so that it addresses your child’s unique needs.  As a good general resource for understanding Special Needs Trusts, Ms. Goodman recommends the Handbook for Trustees, published by the Special Needs Alliance.  The book is available as a free download at http://www.specialneedsalliance.org/free-trustee-handbook/

Contact us today at 973-841-5111.

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