Life Care Planning:
What exactly is a life care plan? It’s a comprehensive, all-encompassing strategic blueprint for providing the economic security and services that someone with special needs will require in order to live a fulfilling life, as independently as possible. It’s an action plan that incorporates basic needs, and strategies for achieving the best quality of life in every area-food, clothing, shelter, health, finances, family life, social, recreation, entertainment, employment and so forth- today and in the future. Primarily, it’s for a person with a disability, but it may also incorporate elements to benefit the family, caregivers, future guardians, and others.
A Life Care Plan helps parents and caregivers define the vision they have for their loved one to live a quality life after they’re gone or no longer able to provide care. Life care planning is a holistic team approach that should involve the person with special needs’ if possible and a network of highly trained professionals ( legal, financial, medical, social, government, etc.) in the development of a plan that can help the individual with disabilities maintain the lifestyle that he or she needs to ensure lifetime care and quality of life. It is a coordinated program of future care planning, financial, and legal strategies for people with special needs and their families.
Life care planning for an individual with special needs may need to last 30-40 years beyond the life of their parents/caregivers so a comprehensive planning strategy is critical to ensure that they are protected and cared for:
Steps involved in creating a Life Care Plan should include:
- Assessing the supports that will be required, and their cost, given the individual’s disabilities and desired lifestyle.
- Identifying government benefits for which the person may be eligible.
- Including a financial plan for supplementing publicly provided services, including a special need trust (SNT) to protect eligibility for means-tested government benefits like supplemental security income and Medicaid.
- Recommending guardianship or powers of attorney, if the individual will be unable to make important decisions independently
- Incorporating a Letter of Intent (LOI).
Although not legally binding, this document provides direction for future caregivers. It should address medical history, current and future care needs, services, as well as your specific wishes and expectations as they relate to the disabled dependents current and future needs. It is a working document for the future caregiver(s) to follow when the parents or current caregivers have passed away.
Developing a Life Care Plan and defining your financial resources requires working with people who are specially trained to understand the nuances of tax law and government benefits that affect their loved one with special needs. No one professional can provide everything a family may need.
An integrated team should be made up of, an attorney, a CPA, and others, such as social workers and caregivers and special needs planning financial professionals who specializes in working with special needs families.
Unfortunately, there are very few financial services companies that have the resources and trained professional to assist families with Life Care Planning. However, there is one company that stands out, MassMutual.
MassMutual has a dedicated network of Planners who are specially trained to work with families/caregivers who have dependents with special needs. In fact, many of them are parents or relatives of people with special needs and understand what caregivers need to plan properly. MassMutual SpecialCare is a national program exclusive to MassMutual that provides comprehensive life care planning services. Special Care Planners work closely with local attorneys who specialize in special needs planning and have relationships with non-profit partnerships who can assist families with their planning.
In addition, the Melvin J. & Claire Levine LifePlanning® Program at Alpert Jewish Family Service offers free education, advocacy, consultation and emotional support to individuals with differing abilities, their parents, siblings and caregivers. Our educational workshop series is open to the public and covers topics such as families planning ahead legally and financially, understanding and attaining government benefits, how to advocate, the importance of socialization, recreation and best quality of life, learning about home and community based services, Medicaid waiver, respite, vocational opportunities and more. LifePlanning® encourages and assists in planning for the future.
Written by: Douglas A. Vogel, Special Care Planner, MassMutual Special Care