Starting school is a big event for everyone. It represents a fast-paced period of growth, development and change. And to help ease the transition for children with special needs, there are certain steps that can help you prepare — starting with the Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

The IEP is an important legal document that will spell out learning needs, the services to be provided by the school and how progress will be measured. Over time, you’ll gain more insight into your child’s needs as well as abilities, which will allow you to adjust the IEP and any related financial plans accordingly.

Build bridges with your community

It is important to take the time to meet with your community leaders and establish rapport with the local school superintendent and staff. Community organizers may have more insight into financial aid and additional types of support to help with special needs care.

Get involved in your school community

By getting involved with your school community, you may find other families and support groups in your area with similar experiences. Speak with your school's principal, special education teachers, and local community organizations for information on support groups and educational workshops. This is a great opportunity to extend your network of support and connect with other families and resources in your community.

Review finances regularly

In the process of planning a lifetime of care and support, it’s always a good time to review the finances that will support your future plans. At least once a year, you should review your financial picture to make sure your goals are being met. As your situation changes, you'll be able to develop a better idea of what resources may be needed.It’s also a good practice to keep track of your spending, including any out-of-pocket expenses for your loved one’s care. By planning and projecting for all scenarios, you may be able to cushion the impact of any unexpected scenarios, as they arise. Also, remember to budget for the rest of your family — and your retirement.

Determine eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and/or Medicaid

Prior to a loved one turning 18 and reaching the age of majority, his or her guardian’s income and assets will be used to determine eligibility for SSI and/or Medicaid. However, once an individual turns 18 and becomes his or her “own person,” his or her own assets and income will be the determining factor.Since an individual’s assets and/or income cannot be more than $2,000 to qualify for critical government assistance programs, it’s important to review all of your accounts, beneficiary designations, and titling to protect eligibility. Working together with a special needs planning financial advisor is one way you can ensure everything is in order. 

Choosing a legal guardian

As a parent, you are the walking encyclopedia for your child, and you know what’s best for him or her. But what happens if you’re no longer around to make those important decisions? Is there someone you trust to step in and fill your shoes? While no parent looks forward to choosing and needing a legal guardian, it’s an important safety net to have for children under the age of 18. Depending on your child's needs, he or she may need this type of ongoing help and guidance as an adult.If you feel your child will be unable to make important life, medical, and financial decisions on his or her own, choosing a guardian may be the best way to protect your child. Most states have their own legal requirements for what constitutes a legal guardian. In most cases, the preference will be for an adult parent to take on the role or, if this is not possible, an adult sibling or a close family friend. Guardians are supervised by the court to prevent any potential abuse of trust.

Additional takeaways

  • Medicaid and SSI aren't the only government programs available to your child. Spend some time online looking into additional community and state offered programs.
  • In the process of planning a lifetime of continuous care for your child, don’t forget to plan for your own retirement. A specially trained financial professional can help you address both and create a comprehensive strategy for your family.
  • Remember the importance of successor caregivers and legal guardians. With a guardianship, your child could lose a great deal of independence, so it’s best to carefully consider whether a guardianship is the most suitable option or if less restrictive alternatives would be more effective.

Most importantly, remember that you are not alone. You have access to specially trained financial professionals* to help you make important decisions and create a lifetime of continuous care.

Neither Voya nor is affiliated companies or representatives provide tax or legal advice. Please consult a tax advisor or attorney before making a tax-related investment/insurance decision.

* Financial Professionals are Investment Advisor Representatives of and offer securities and investment advisory services through Voya Financial Advisors, Inc., (VFA) (member SIPC).