Special Needs Planning and How a ChSNC® Can Help

Aug 14, 2023 Eric Keating Posted in Articles, In the News

Willow Creek is proud to announce that one of our Wealth Advisors, Eric Keating, CFP®, has just earned the Chartered Special Needs Consultant certification.

We asked Eric to share with us a little more about this new designation and why he felt inspired to become an expert in this area of financial planning.

I’ll start with a little background on the certification: The ChSNC® designation is for experienced financial advisors that want to make a difference specifically in the lives of people with disabilities or special needs. Many people are unaware that financial planning for an individual with a disability is vastly different from the financial planning they have become accustomed to. It goes well beyond the "start a college fund and leave them an inheritance” standard. As the planning begins, the sheer number of options, rules, regulations, and possible mistakes can become overwhelming. Although some help can come from support groups, charities, and estate planning attorneys, there remains a significant void in financial advisors who have expertise in this arena. For me personally, the main reason I wanted to become a ChSNC® is because I have two young boys with special needs: Cole, age 6, and Wade, age 4. They are both on the autism spectrum. Like any good parent, my number one priority is to look out for them. When I discovered that they may not ever be able to be on their own, I was motivated and inspired to expand my knowledge and expertise. Through that journey, I not only learned how much additional planning is necessary, but also how impactful Chartered Special Needs Consultants have been to other families.  With approximately 1 in 4 Americans having some type of disability, and 7% of children having a developmental disability, there are a great number of individuals and families who could really benefit from a little extra guidance. To help illustrate some of the complexities of special needs planning, let’s use an example of two parents who have a 17-year-old daughter who is neurotypical and a 15-year-old son with a disability. Some possible considerations are:

  • Even though most people with a disability have average to above-average intellect, they can sometimes struggle with societal norms. This might make it difficult to retain employment, handle finances, or live on their own. A special needs trust would likely be recommended in this circumstance. But what type of trust? There are several to choose from.
  • Trusts can be very restrictive—their son will constantly be faced with the challenges of working with a private or corporate trustee. Allowing him some financial independence can be huge for his self-esteem and happiness. Perhaps complementing the trust with an ABLE account is the answer.
  • Has a 529 college savings account been established for him, and now he is not expected to attend college? A certain amount can be rolled into an ABLE account each year, where the balance can be used to pay for more than just education expenses.
  • What government benefits are available to him, and how can the parents avoid mistakes that would eliminate his eligibility?
  • Once the parents are gone, who will know his life routines, goals, hobbies, fears, health history, prescriptions, etc.? This is where a Letter of Intent comes in.
  • Will he work? Will he live on his own? Will he receive an inheritance? Will he need a guardian or advocate when the parents are gone? Is his sister up to the task?
  • Making this all even more complex, if your child has special needs, not only do you need to save enough for your own retirement, but you may also need to save enough to support your child for their lifetime.

These are just a few of the concerns for many parents and family members of an individual with special needs. Most families have enough on their plate without taking on the added complexities of financial planning for a loved one with special needs. As a Chartered Special Needs Consultant, I can help with all of these decisions along with other scenarios that are specific to you. Building a solid financial foundation and having a well-considered plan will give you peace of mind that you have set your loved one up for success.