Disability Planning Resources
Book Excerpt - Plan While You Can: Legal Solutions for Facing Disability
WHO NEEDS TO PLAN?
You've opened this web page because someone recommended it or the title caught your eye, but you wonder, "Is this something that should concern me?" Consider a couple of potential stories.
Margaret, a widow since her 20s, built a career for herself in sales. She lived frugally and retired early. At 60, she moved to an apartment complex in the Southwest, and reveled in her independence. Unfortunately, six years later Margaret suffered a series of strokes which left her disoriented and unable to handle her own affairs. Margaret's niece, Helen, came to help and faced a mess: real estate in Illinois , a series of Certificates of Deposit held jointly with different nieces and nephews, and various bank and brokerage accounts in Margaret's own name. The only way for Helen to handle Margaret's finances was to get a court to declare Margaret incompetent and create a guardianship. By not anticipating the possibility that she might become disabled, Margaret created expenses for herself and frustrations for her favorite niece.
In contrast, Ruth and Chuck saw disability every day and thought about the future. In particular, they worried about their sons who had cerebral palsy. One was more independent, lived in a sheltered housing complex and could handle his own funds, but needed financial help. The other lived at home. What would happen to the boys when Ruth and Chuck no longer could help?
Seeking ideas, Ruth and Chuck located a lawyer who had worked with similarly-situated parents. Then the problems started. After a brief conference, the lawyer sent a draft will for Ruth and Chuck to review. The will was long and complex. Try as they might, Ruth and Chuck could make very little sense of it. They needed a clear source of information, so they could ask their lawyer the right questions and understand the answers.
Plan While You Can is for people like Margaret, who should have thought ahead. And for Margaret's niece, who might have sent it to her aunt as a gift. And for Ruth and Chuck, to help bridge the gap with their lawyer (or help pick a better one). And for you, if you have a disabled child or parent or partner, or if you are concerned about what the future may hold for you.
The law provides a wide variety of opportunities for people who plan ahead. To take full advantage of those opportunities, however, you need to be well-informed. You needn't know the details of legal doctrine, but you should understand enough about the choices so that whatever plan develops is the cooperative effort of you and your advisors.
Standardized forms aren't designed for you.
By now you may be asking, "What advisors? Can't I do this on my own?" The answer, of course, is "Yes." But the next question becomes "At what cost?" You might buy a blank form at a business supply office or borrow a do-it-yourself book from the library. With either option, you could produce a low-cost, legally-binding document. A document designed to fit most people. Not a document designed to fit you.
Rather than forcing you to accept a "cookie cutter" plan just like someone else's, the law allows you to tailor a plan to your individual situation. Standardized forms, whether from a book or from a lazy lawyer, miss the opportunity to individualize a plan. Especially in the context of disability planning, standard plans fall far short of what you can accomplish with a little effort. When you know the basics, when you have thought about which options are best for you, you will be better able to work with your advisors to design a plan reflecting your needs and desires.
As an informed member of your planning team, you can be involved in the process, rather than just the recipient of other peoples’ ideas of what’s best for you. A team approach can be especially valuable because it draws together a variety of perspectives to assess your situation. Almost certainly, a lawyer should be on your team. Depending upon your needs, you may also want an insurance agent (or several), an accountant, or various other professionals. Whatever your situation, this book can help you become an active participant in the planning process.
Jot down ideas.
Your participation is key because you can come up with your own approaches. One of the great things about this area of the law is that your options are not limited to the ideas noted here or those suggested by your advisors. There are a few limits, but on the whole, if you ask "Could I . . . ?" the answer will be "Yes." By explaining key concepts and suggesting creative options, Plan While You Can seeks to prompt you to come up with ideas to fit your family situation.