You made the inventory of your assets and liabilities. You looked at your loved ones and made a plan to protect them to the best of your ability for when the worst things happen. But how do you make the dry Life & Estate Planning documents breathe? How do you make them represent the real people you are protecting? One answer might be a Letter of Intent. A letter of intent is used to explain the nuances of the family and how the assets being left can be used to enhance the lives of the dependents you leave. This is true for dependent minors, and especially for special needs dependents.
The legal documents form the skeleton of your estate plan. They form the structure that will be followed, appoint your chosen people to specific duties and designate how and for whom your assets should be used. Legal documents do not convey much about the personality of a person. The details that a parent knows about their child are often lost when a legal plan is put into effect. Without those details transitions are more difficult and the heart of the plan is absent.
A Letter of Intent is a parent’s opportunity to put down on paper all they know about what makes their child tick. Parents know the details of their kids. They know if they are early birds or night owls. Whether they eat hearty in the morning or prefer to start with a little juice and toast. Do they like to have music in the background or do they relish the opportunities work in silence? Can they relax in a chaotic environment or do they need calm and order? Schedule-bound or go-with-the-flow?
These details are important for all kids, but how much more important might these details be for a child who can’t really explain those preferences or whose preference might seem off-the-wall and unimportant to the uninformed? A typical child might prefer seamless socks. If given a pair with an uncomfortable seam across the toe, that child might say something or just go get a different pair of socks. A special needs child with a sensory issue might not be able to communicate that preference and the distress over the uncomfortable seam might be unbearable to the child, leading to a meltdown.
One of the many responsibilities a guardian will take on is managing the healthcare of a dependent. That might be as simple as taking them to regular dental and medical checkups or it might be more complicated. Many children have medical needs without being “special needs.” Managing a chronic illness or medical condition requires organization and attention to details. While the guardian has access to the medical records, reading a history might not be the most effective way to explain when medications need to be taken and why. A Letter of Intent with the Life & Estate Plan can describe the symptoms that might appear and what might trigger them. The parent can mention that the child hates liquid medications and would rather suffer a terrible headcold than take a dose of liquid decongestant. A record of the current status of that illness or condition and the treatments being used is crucial information. A family with a special needs child who may not be able to assist in remembering the medications or where the nebulizer is kept, is especially dependent upon that information being available to an emergency caregiver.
Simple routines that can make or break the quality of life for a special needs child and their caregiver can be documented in a Letter of Intent. For example, an autistic child who has a very specific bedtime routine and without that routine and its specific elements, may be unable to settle and sleep. This leads to distress for the child and the caregiving family. Unresolved distress can threaten the fabric of the new relationships.
No one wants to think about their contingency plans being put to the test, but if the worst happens, leaving a Letter of Intent to add depth to your Life & Estate Plan can make the worst situation a tiny bit easier.
Copyright Kirsten Schroeder Larsen, P.A., 2016