Special needs financial planning

Raising a child or helping a family member with special needs is challenging yet rewarding at the same time. But keeping abreast of all the services and tools available to support that special needs individual can be overwhelming.

In our recent Big Picture Advisor podcast we heard from Jon Elfin, CRPC ®, who shares his own stories of triumph and commitment to special needs planning and speaks to his own experiences with his son who has a rare chromosomal condition.

“Special needs planning, like standard financial planning, needs to follow a rigorous process,” he explained. “Understanding what federal and public programs are available, how you qualify for them, and how they work together are key to special needs planning. These public benefits need to be integrated and coordinated with your investments, estate plan, retirement plan, and all other aspects of planning in general.” For example, when running retirement models for the caretakers (typically the parents), Jon factors in projected costs for the special needs individual for the duration of their lifetime. Planning for the family and the special needs individual is inextricably linked.

Jon’s process begins with the foundational financial goals and objectives, auditing your current situation, identifying opportunities and solutions, and understanding the costs and benefits of each. He also talks through other areas of planning, such as financial independence, investment strategy, insurance review, estate planning, risk management and tax efficiency.

Because of the anxiety that parents of special needs children feel - fear of what is going to happen when they are gone - most are motivated to educate themselves and take the necessary steps to secure a safe and happy life for their loved one. But because of the overwhelming number of components to the planning, many people are uninformed and make mistakes that can be detrimental for their child. Here are the top four mistakes that Jon highlighted:

  • Leaving assets to a special needs child: This will typically make special needs individuals ineligible for public benefits.

  • Leaving assets to a sibling of a special needs child: You can’t assume that a sibling even with the best intentions will take care of a special needs sibling. A sibling that inherits an estate could lose half of that estate through divorce, or the entire estate if they get married and predecease their spouse. These occurrences will either fully or partially disinherit the special needs child.

  • Not coordinating with extended family: Intergenerational planning is a key factor with special needs planning. Often grandparents want to help financially but are unaware of Special Needs Trusts and unwittingly leave money directly to the special needs individual (thereby disqualifying them from public benefits), or create their own special needs trust which can add unnecessary complexity. So, coordination between family members and across generations is key.

  • Failing to utilize ABLE accounts or life insurance: These are two powerful, tax-advantaged tools that should be considered in planning for special needs individuals.

Listen to the complete episode below.

About Jon Elfin, CRPC®, MBA

Jon Elfin has over 35 years of experience in the financial services industry. His comprehensive financial planning process includes retirement, investments, personal risk management, business succession, and estate planning. He specializes in helping families with special needs children create a secure and happy life for their loved ones. He has first-hand experience, planning for his son Jake.

Episode 20 – From the desk of: Jon Elfin, CRPC®, MBA, Partner at Open Advisors

Planning for special needs

Jon shares his personal story and offers his perspective on how to navigate the special needs planning landscape.


CRN 3421793-012521