When a Trust Isn’t Quite Enough for Your Special Needs Child

A Special Needs Trust (or "SNT") is a wonderful—and necessary—tool to protect your Special Needs Child’s public benefits, to protect their inheritance, and to provide them with the extra funds they will need to have a home and food and clothing. But some parents still think it’s not enough. They know that something more is needed if their child is going to be truly and comprehensively cared for.

Does this mean Special Needs Trusts are inadequate, or should be avoided? Not at all! Because an SNT goes hand in hand with something called a “Letter of Intent.” Although the SNT carries all the legal weight, the letter of intent (which is not a legal document) will have the greatest impact on the day-to-day life of your child. A letter of intent is your message to the people who will be caring for your child if something happens to you. Consider the instructions you leave a babysitter when you leave your child for just a few hours. What would you want to share with that person if you knew you wouldn’t be coming back?

A letter of intent should address all the areas of significance in your child’s life. Here are just a few to get you started:

  • A medical history and list of doctors and contact information
  • Any allergies your child has
  • A list of teachers, therapists, and any other important people
  • Your child’s biographical information, including favorite foods and activities, likes and dislikes, best friends, and personality traits
  • A detailed rundown of your child’s daily and weekly routine
  • Your family philosophy
  • And most importantly, your wishes for your child’s future

A letter of intent may not carry any specific legal weight, but it serves as more than just a list of instructions for your child’s caretaker, it also provides guidelines for your Trustee, the person who will be exercising significant discretion and deciding how trust funds are going to be spent for your child. The SNT and letter of instruction together provide a comprehensive safety net for your Special Needs Child. If you wouldn’t leave her alone in the house, don’t leave her alone in the world. Create something lasting to protect her when you are gone.