Financial Planning For Seniors With Special Needs

Support For Special Needs Seniors

Cognitive needs, physical concerns, and mental health diagnoses, such as PTSD or dementia, increase as disabled seniors age. They may find themselves confused and struggling to handle important decisions in a timely manner. Issues includes:

Financial Concerns – Limited finances and part-time or full-time earning opportunities can make senior years very challenging.

Medical Concerns – As you age medical needs increase, with an added stress from resulting medical bills. Charges for adaptive equipment, prescriptions, and home care are major expenses.

A Need for Decision Makers – This is an emotional, but necessary step as people age. Disabilities such as developmental, cognitive and physical problems often require the elderly to designate a decision maker. Also, living arrangements may require changes.

Diminished Social Communication – this factor can not be ignored. Honestly assess any changes in your relative’s ability to function outside their homes.

Most important, many seniors living with disabilities may not be aware of the need for financial planning or are unable to access the resources available to assist them with these concerns. Consider this as a guide to important information.

Now Is The Best Time To Plan Your Special Needs Loved One’s Future

Financial precautions lead to a stable future. Here are some tools that can help preserve the financial and physical health of those with special needs as they age.

If you plan to assume responsibility for an elderly person, use this page to outline an action plan. These groups can help both of you navigate away from money worries and provide an overall better quality of life.

If you are the designated “decision maker”, below are tools you can use:

Power of Attorney (POA) and Conservatorship

POAs are legal documents that give someone the power to act in your place. That simple definition becomes more complex in cases involving disabled adults. Always engage an attorney.

Financial guru Chris Hogan believes the POAs are the most important aspect of estate planning for older adults. “This document declares who you want to make financial and legal decisions for you if you cannot make them. This is especially important as you age because no one – not even your child – can access your bank account without prior permission,” he says.

A POA document is mandatory to monitor and pay bills for your disabled relative.

Ideally, individuals should grant power of attorney power before they get to the point that they cannot make decisions for themselves. With someone with special needs, you may have to name a decision maker before the individual feels it is necessary.

Attorney Philip Feldman points to the possibility that you may encounter reluctance when the loved ones don’t want to relinquish their independence. Legally, the individual must consent. Feldman suggests an alternative, “If you’re unable to persuade your [loved one] to do this, you can go to court and get a conservatorship.”

Conservatorship replaces the POA and gives an individual the power to make decisions once the court decides their relation is incapable of managing their finances.

Websites with more information about conservatorship and power of attorney: 
A Place for Mom – 5 Misconceptions About a Power of Attorney
AARP – Legal Matters: Power of Attorney Health Care Decisions – 5 legal documents You Need for Your Loved Ones

Health Care Proxy and Medical-Information Release

Healthcare proxy is a power of attorney restricted to healthcare decisions. The healthcare proxy will have access to medical records and important medical decisions as needed.

More information about health care proxies and medical information release documents:

Aging Care – 3 Must-Have Legal Documents for Elderly Healthcare 
PBS Caregiver’s Handbook – Important Legal Documents 
New York State Healthcare Proxy 
The Senior Focus – Do You Need a Health Care Proxy? 

It’s very important that those charged with caring for the of an older adult and their special needs take every necessary financial precaution to insure future stability. There are tools to preserve financial health:

Special Needs Trust

Legal experts recommend Special Needs Trust Financial Plan for disabled persons. Reasons include:

  • Funds are in place for long-term personal and financial needs allowing the person to live the best life possible.
  • Special Needs enables a flexible and effective option to provide for the immediate and future priorities.
  • Promotes protection of the individual’s ability to receive need-based government benefits, like Medicaid and SSI.
  • Money for the extra items not provided by other sources of support can eliminate stress.

Special Needs Trust funds should not be considered income. The Special Needs Alliance guidelines state “the purpose of Special Needs Trusts is usually to provide extra, or supplemental, items to the beneficiary – the things that the system, family, and other sources cannot or will not provide.”

Initiating and maintaining Special Needs Trust requires diligence to avoid improper funding or choices that will make the program less useful.

  • This is an overview of how to establish a Special Needs Trust:
  • Consult with qualified special needs trust attorneys or licensed financial planners.
  • Complete and file the necessary paperwork to set up the trust and identify the trustee.

Other family members should understand the requirements and restrictions of the trust.
Initial questions about this Trust can be answered below. Knowing what to ask helps: inquire about all specifics of the Trust – what’s covered and alternatives or options. Review the paperwork with other family members if possible. Call your attorney or estate planner with any questions you have.

More information about a Special Needs Trust is available online.

Long Term Care Insurance

Benefits to consider as you evaluate long-term care insurance:

1) Peace of mind regarding the possible need for long-term, extended care

2) Ability to pay directly to the facility, which protects the income status necessary for Medicaid and SSI.

Long-term care insurance is not a perfect solution, however. The American Association of Retired People’s (AARP) Allan Roth cites potential cons:

1) Premiums may increase exponentially as your relative ages.

2) Like any other company, long term care insurance providers design their policies to insure a profit.

Investments are an alternative that needs to be discussed. Rather than pay premiums, you may choose to put the money into a stock portfolio.

For more insight into long-term care insurance review the information on the following websites:
American Association for Long Term Care Insurance
Facts About Long Term Care
Insurance Information – Long Term Care
HIPPA – gather pertinent medical documentation ahead of time, and/or obtain their consent for access

Federal Assistance

If the above plans are out of reach, the Federal government’s has various aid programs to guide disabled seniors and their caregivers:

The Americans with Disabilities Act is designed to protect the rights of disabled citizens. It is the best start to any financial resources search.

Medicaid is Federal health coverage that services low-income blind and disabled persons. Assistance with prescription drug and healthcare copays are provided. Additionally, in-home or nursing home care services are included. People with special needs qualify both in the seniors and the disabled categories.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) covers those 65 and older, who are disabled and/or blind with very limited income and access to resources. A monthly income is available for those that meet the requirements.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides money for food for disabled seniors and other qualified people. Income guidelines apply. This program supports the healthy eating habits necessary older adults.

Section 8 Housing programs provides safe, affordable housing for low-income families, the elderly and the disabled. Participants receive vouchers or are assigned housing units.

The National Council for Aging Care offers a range of services to protect seniors from abuse, provide financial counseling and advice on long-term care options.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations enforce prescription drug protections and monitor special needs services. FDA resources help navigate medication issues.

State Programs

Every state helps disabled seniors access information and services. Contact and other data can be discussed at the following locations:

Departments of Health and Human Services can provide medical assistance as needed, funds to purchase food and if applicable, access to Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). The primary focus is improving all quality of life issues.

State-based health coverage programs provide coverage to low-income disabled people and is one of the largest healthcare payers in the US.

Programs include:

Your disabled relative may qualify for the Basic Health Program (BHP). This is a state service for affordable insurance coverage and continuity of care for people whose income varies above and below Medicaid eligibility restrictions.

Departments of Aging assist seniors who want to remain their home or community, as opposed to assisted living, nursing home care. Experienced staff will evaluate and guide you to the best options.

Office of Home & Community-Based Quality Assurance administers home and community-based programs that assist seniors, people with disabilities and offer support to their caregivers.

Office of Support Service for the Aged supports for eligible seniors and disabled individuals with prescription copays, medical charges not covered by Medicare, hearing aids and can provide grants to pay utility costs.

1) The Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled (PAAD) program is a state- funded program that advocates rights for the elderly and disabled by providing information, referrals, and technical assistance, legal and non-legal advocacy.

2) Senior Gold Prescription Discount Program (Senior Gold) is state-funded prescription program with affordable co-payment fees. Income eligibility guidelines for this program differ from those that govern PAAD.

Medicare Information and Referral Services provide answers and assistance with Medicare matters.

Department of Veterans Affairs can provide near-comprehensive healthcare services to eligible military veterans at VA medical centers and outpatient clinics throughout the country. These offices also facilitate disability compensation, vocational rehabilitation, higher education opportunities, and life insurance. You can also discuss burial and memorial benefits for eligible veterans and family members.

States may have unique programs to assist you. Listed below are interesting programs that can help with important decisions:

State Disability Assistance (Michigan) offer cash assistance to eligible disabled elderly adults (age 65 and older).

Disability Financial Assistance (Ohio) has cash assistance available from the Department of Job and Family Services for disabled individuals age 60 and older.

Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (New York) have programs for disabled individuals with low incomes.

Department of Aging (California) is a model progressive department that focuses on programs for the elderly.

Private Programs

Private programs and groups can provide guidance and support for disabled seniors. Also, caregivers need the same support and options to effectively assist their loved ones. Browse the internet, ask others with similar objectives.

Medical providers are a good place to start. Primary care physicians (PCP), specialists, and other members of the team can provide much needed information based on their experiences.

Also seek out:

  • Local support groups for the disabled
  • Local support groups for caregivers
  • Local support groups and organizations for the elderly


National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – has affiliates, state organizations and volunteers who work in your community and are familiar with local options.

Autism Society – this organization will provide personalized support for individuals. Autism Response Teams (ART) are trained to connect on all levels, the patient, families, and caretakers. They will provide or recommend the best information, tools, and resources for disabled seniors.

The Get in Touch Foundation – this organization’s goals include breast health awareness. Programs are available to educate and assist elderly patients.

Disability-specific groups are the Alzheimer’s Association, American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities,
American Association of People with Disabilities, American Council of the Blind and the American Foundation for the Blind, and the National Association of the Deaf.

Also consider:

The National Council On Independent Living is a nonprofit group that operates on a state level. Independent living services information can help decision makers and disabled individuals make informed choices.

National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities’ mission is to improve and sustain state systems delivering home and community-based services and support. They assist people who are older or have a disability, and their caregivers.

Steven Millstein