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Financial Planning for a Loved One with Special Needs by Mindy Cleaveland, CFP®, ChSNC®

Financial Planning for a Loved One with Special Needs by Mindy Cleaveland, CFP®, ChSNC®, Bergen County Moms

As a former in-home therapist of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), I will always

cherish the many heartwarming moments with the children, the challenges we worked together

to overcome, and the families who welcomed me into their homes as though I always belonged.

One of the things I learned from these families was that having a child or grandchild with special

needs often comes with many challenges. Someone always needs to be available to care for

them. and taking some “me time” is almost always an afterthought. This is especially challenging now during the pandemic when outsourced caregiving is so limited.

And then there’s the reality that the child may not ever be able to live a fully independent life

away from home. This means that those responsible for the child’s care need to put into action a

plan for now, a plan for when they can no longer care for the child, and a plan for when they are

no longer here with them. If you are an extended family member or friend of a special needs child, you may wish to share this article with the child’s parents.

The Importance of Estate Planning for Families with Special Needs Children

Estate planning is usually not the most comfortable area of financial planning to address for

many clients. You may be thinking of the complexity, the cost, the time commitment, and the

emotions that come along with this planning. If you are someone who needs to plan for a child

with special needs, these thoughts and feelings are even stronger, but the need to plan is even

greater. The focus for you will be to establish the necessary documents to act on behalf of your

child and ensure that they can live a full, quality life when you are no longer able to help them.

You will also want to be certain that everything is in place if you become disabled. You will need

to create what is called a Life Plan.

A Life Plan helps to ensure the right people are in place to care for your child and that they have

everything they need to follow your directions. It also gives you a way to efficiently leave assets

to your child, while considering the need for government benefits if they cannot work to meet the

“substantial gainful activity” level, as defined by the Social Security Administration. In the Life

Plan you will outline the present and future personal, legal, and financial needs.

To help you get started, below is a list of categories derived from the book Planning for the

Future: Give your Child with a Disability the Gift of a Safe and Happy Life (Russell & Grant,

2010). For each of the categories we recommend listing four priorities on which you’d like to

focus. These will be your stepping-stones to help you prepare a Letter of Intent when you meet

with your CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and your Special Needs Attorney to formalize

your Life Plan.

Residential: If you die or go into a nursing home, where do you want your child to live?

Education: What is your long-term perspective of your child’s capabilities?

Employment: What has your child enjoyed? List their goals, aspirations, limitations, etc.

Social/Recreational: What activities make life meaningful for your child? List sports, hobbies,


Religion: Is there a special church, synagogue, or other holy place for fellowship?

Medical Care: What has worked and what has not?

Behavioral Management: Does your child have special behavior problems? What behavior

management techniques have been effective in the past?

Advocate/Guardian: Who will look after your child, advocate for your child, and be a friend?

Trustees: Who do you trust to manage your child’s funds?

Other Areas of Concern: What other aspects of your child’s life are important to note?

To learn how Modera can help you develop a comprehensive Life Plan, please reach out to our

team of advisors. Or contact me directly at

Mindy Cleaveland, CFP®, ChSNC® is a Senior Financial Advisor with Modera Wealth Management, LLC who specializes in helping individuals and families who have planning needs centered around disability or other medical conditions. Mindy received her B.A. in Economics and Psychology from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and is a CERTIFIED PLANNER™ professional and a Chartered Special Needs Consultant.


Modera Wealth Management., LLC is an SEC registered investment adviser with places of business in

Massachusetts, New Jersey, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida. SEC registration does not imply any level of skill or training. Modera may only transact business in those states in which it is registered or qualifies for an exemption or exclusion from registration requirements. For additional information about Modera, including its registration status, fees and services and/or a copy of our Form ADV Disclosure Brochure, please contact us or refer to the Investment Adviser Public Disclosure web site

( A full description of the firm’s business operations and service offerings is contained in our Disclosure Brochure which appears as Part 2A of Form ADV. Please read the Disclosure Brochure carefully before you invest or send money. This article is limited to the dissemination of general information about Modera’s investment advisory and financial planning services that is not suitable for everyone. Nothing herein should be interpreted or construed as investment advice nor as legal, tax or accounting advice nor as personalized financial planning, tax planning or wealth management advice. For legal, tax and accounting-related matters, we recommend you seek the advice of a qualified attorney or accountant. This article is not a substitute for personalized investment or financial planning from Modera. There is no guarantee that the views and opinions expressed herein will come to pass, and the information herein should not be considered a solicitation to engage in a particular investment or financial planning strategy. The statements and opinions expressed in this article are subject to change without notice based

on changes in the law and other conditions.


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