Autism Awareness Month: Top 3 Things You Need to Know from a “Legal” Side

April has been designated as “National Autism Awareness Month” and provides the perfect opportunity for individuals and organizations across the nation to educate their communities about autism. Autism New Jersey’s “Autism Awareness Ambassador Program” is asking individuals concerned about autism to “Make a Statement” to raise awareness in their neighborhoods, workplaces, schools and local communities this month. Click here to view simple examples on how you can help create awareness, such as posting, tweeting, liking, pinning, attending a local event, wearing blue, or join Bratton Scott next month at the Southern New Jersey Walk Now for Autism Speaks, May 17th, in Mt. Laurel, NJ.

Our law firm strongly supports April as “Autism Awareness Month” because this annual designation does indeed raise awareness, both to the challenges and the solutions available to families.

Autism’s Legal Challenges and Solutions

Autism now affects one in 65 children nationwide and one in 45 in New Jersey..  All of the affected families, at some point, must deal with autism’s legal challenges and it is important to know that there are legal solutions available to you.

The top 3 things you need to know about Autism Awareness Month, from a legal perspective, are:

  1. When Your Child Attains the Age of 18 You Will Likely Need to Request a Guardianship.

  1. You Do Not Need to Disinherit Your Child from Your Estate.

  1. Special Needs Planning is Available.

At 18, a Guardianship is required if your child is unable to make his/her own decisions

Parents are entitled to and responsible for making decisions for their minor children.  However, when a child, even a special needs child, turns 18, the entitlement and responsibility cease immediately.

Children, who have not been afflicted by autism and are legally competent, have the legal right to execute an estate plan, authorizing their parents to continue to help them if need be.

However, if your child is not capable of making his or her own medical and legal decisions, you will need to petition the court to be appointed guardian, when your child attains the age of 18.

As guardian, you will be authorized to make financial, medical, lifestyle, and general welfare decisions for your adult child.

You Do Not Need to Disinherit Your Child

Some parents or family members think they need to disinherit their autistic loved ones in fear of disqualifying them from receiving governmental assistance.  It is true that receiving an outright gift or inheritance may be wasted, disqualify your loved one, and force him or her to reapply for assistance.

However, there is a third option – beyond disinheritance or disqualification.  You and other loved ones can pass along a gift or an inheritance in trust, with carefully crafted special needs provisions.

This means that your gift will supplement, not supplant, governmental assistance and this is called “special needs planning.”

Special Needs Planning is Available

Fortunately, the law permits parents, grandparents, or other caring adults to set up and contribute to special needs trusts.  Trust assets are used to increase the quality of an autistic person’s life, but typically are drafted to avoid disqualifying him or her from receiving governmental assistance, which covers the basics.

For example, a special needs trust might pay for an additional caretaker, a hairdresser, a trip, or tickets to a favorite event such as a play, concert, baseball game, or museum.

The trust must be carefully drafted to obtain family goals and avoid legal pitfalls.  A trustee is named to carry out trust instructions and make distributions in accordance with the trust’s terms.

Where to Get Help Avoiding the Legal Pitfalls of Autism

If you have a loved one with autism, we encourage you to avoid the legal pitfalls of autism and use the legal solutions available to you.

If you would like to find out how a guardianship and special needs planning can help your loved one, we welcome you to contact our law office.   Bratton Scott is committed to helping families likes yours plan for a secure future. 856-857-6007.

How do you plan to make a statement this month?