By Betty Lehman, Disability Advisor, Lehman Disability Planning, LLC
Life Care Planning is intentional planning focusing on the care needs, financial needs and legal needs of the whole family. Like an Individualized Plan (IP), a life care plan is created by a team of professionals who understand how to design your plan to support the needs of your entire family, throughout their lifetimes. This means making sure that there is enough money, and that the money is controlled in such a way that every family member has the opportunity to have the best quality of life possible given their unique circumstances. The Life Care Plan is usually centered on funding sources such as private assets, insurance and public benefit programs.
One way to envision what is required from a thorough life care plan is to ask the following questions, “If my spouse and I perished in a common accident last night, would everything be OK?”; “Would my family know what to do?”; “Would my family know how much I loved them?”; “Would my family know Johnny’s routine or how best to comfort Becky?”; “Would my family have enough money?”; “How much money does my family need?”; “Would my family be legally protected?”
These questions are answered by having a Life Care Plan in place. Start with writing down your Family Mission Statement to discover and express your family’s values. Your values as a family are the heart and soul of a fully considered Life Care Plan, as they are the guiding force of daily decisions. By writing out the Family Mission Statement, and including all family members in the process, professionals you work with will be better equipped to help you create a Life Care Plan tailored to embrace your values and create the best quality of life for every family member, when you are no longer able to guide their lives.
Another important tool for your family’s Life Care Plan is the Letter of Intent document (LOI). Think of the LOI as a family instruction manual in which the outside world is given all the information needed to step into “your shoes”. Your LOI expresses what you know historically and what you desire in the future for those in your family who cannot express their desires for themselves. Many with disability labels can competently express their own desires for the future, as well as their own history. The LOI can cover:
- Daily Activities
- Medical History and Care
- Environment Management – what is needed to feel safe
- Social and Recreation
- Trustee(s): Who will help manage taxes and money concerns? Who knows public benefits?
- Advocate/Guardian: Who will look after, fight for, and be a friend to your family member? Who do you trust?
Although the LOI is not a legally binding document it is an often under-utilized planning “tool”. The LOI:
- Gives future support personnel insight and advice about your family member’s needs
- Provides directions for lawyers, trustees and guardians about your wishes
- Saves time when others know your family member’s likes, dislikes, self-management techniques, talents and strengths
- Protects your family member from unnecessary confusion when they must depend upon someone other than your family for care and support
- Paves transition by giving future support personnel information they will so vitally need, like medical history
After you have completed your Family Mission Statement and LOI, you will have a clearer idea of why you would like to protect and grow your assets. This knowledge will help you with conversations with a financial advisor, disability advisor and attorney. Melissa Edelman CLU, ChSNC, believes that no chances can be taken with the financial future of your family so she recommends that when selecting your financial advisor, it is best to choose a Chartered Special Needs Consultant (ChSNC) who has the additional training to provide proper planning for families with loved ones with special needs. A ChSNC understands what is required to plan for the financial needs for the quality of life for a person who may not be able to fully support themselves financially, the education needs of typically developing children and retirement for the parents.
Laura A. Mathews, an attorney who helps families with Life Care Planning, believes in creating a design—with the help of financial and disability advisors—that has flexibility and longevity. Laura says, “We do not know what happens next, so we need to plan to have documents and money in place that meets the family where they are at any given time, even if it is 75 years from now.” Laura also believes that a “One Size Fits All” planning approach for “A-Typical Families” should be avoided at all costs.
Planning for the future requires time, thought and professional support. As change is constant, a life care plan should be updated when needed. Your plan may change with shifts in:
- Market performance
- Tax law
- Government benefits/services
- Family – new baby, divorce, death, marriage, inheritance
- People – developments, progress
- Changes in family values or goals
Although the efforts to create a fully considered life care plan are rigorous, when your planning is in place, you will be able to answer the question above: “If something were to happen to me, my family who has depended upon me will grieve but they will be OK.” To be able to know in your heart and in reality you have created the supports and information others will need in your absence will bring great peace of mind to you and to the people you love.
About the Author
Betty Lehman is a Colorado Disability Advisor in the Metro Denver area who provides templates and coaching for Family Mission Statements and Letters of Intent, in addition to benefits review. Betty is a former Executive Director of the Autism Society of Ohio and the parent of an adult with special needs.