By Jennifer Pierce, NEWS 9
OKLAHOMA CITY -- More than six million children suffer from disabilities in the U.S. Their physical and emotional needs can be overwhelming, especially for families. But, there's a new industry popping up as families reach out to professionals to protect their children now and in the future.
Judith Ursitti and her husband felt stunned when their 5-year-old son Jack was diagnosed with autism, and would need special care for the rest of his life.
"We both felt overwhelmed, you know, of all the implications of having a special needs child," Ursitti said. "What in the world is going to happen to them when you're not there to take care of them anymore?"
The Ursitti family needed peace of mind, so they turned to a special needs planner. A growing number of attorneys, financial planners and investment companies are offering specialized help to families of people with disabilities.
Andy Hook is with the Special Needs Alliance, a non-profit group of attorneys who specialize in disability law. He said planners can help guide families through the maze of government rules and regulations regarding benefits. And they can set up something called a special needs trust. The purpose: to manage assets, such as those acquired through family gifts, life insurance or other inheritances.
"But also to ensure that the existence of the trust doesn't disqualify the disabled person for needed public benefits such as SSI and Medicaid," Hook said.
You can also make sure your child gets personalized care-- through a "memorandum of intent." Attorney Harry Margolis, with the Academy of Special Needs Planners, remembers one family with a stipulation for their disabled son who loved taking off and landing in airplanes.
"The trustee is to pay for at least one trip by plane for him every year with as many stops as possible," Margolis said.
Carol Glazer is a disability advocate for the National Organization on Disability, whose own son Jacob was born with a birth defect. She said it's important for all parents to think about guardianship, especially parents whose children require special care.
"It's something you need to think about early, something you need to prepare somebody for," Glazer said.
Because there are no industry wide standards for special needs certification processes, Hook recommends looking for an attorney with expertise in government benefits, and a certified financial planner can also help.
"Interview them, find one that you're comfortable with and then don't view it as a single shot transaction because a good plan has to be monitored," Hook said.
Jack's family feels relief that they're doing the best they can.
"You can't outsource love, but you can certainly put in place things that will help make him comfortable and happy and able to live a good life," Ursitti said.