As a parent, seeing your child grow up and come into their own naturally brings about a flood of emotions. There’s pride for how much they’ve grown and learned, optimism for future potential, and a healthy dose of fear for the uncertainty of what the future may hold. While the pride and optimism may remain the same if you’re the parent of a child with special needs, there’s no doubt that you carry a considerable amount of trepidation in considering your child’s future.
In addition to the planning that’s necessary to make sure that your loved ones are taken care of financially if you are unable to, you also have to address who is going to care for your child and how your child’s basic needs and preferences will be understood.
This is why creating a letter of intent is such an important part of planning for the future.
What is a Letter of Intent?
A letter of intent is a document that serves as a guide to individuals that may care for your child in the future. In many cases, it contains pertinent information that only a parent would know about their child’s history and personal preferences. This includes things like your child’s eating habits and aspects of their daily routine.
When creating a letter of intent, it’s important to remember that you need to view the document through the lens of your child’s life today as well as in the future—as they grow and as their needs may change. Equally important is to keep in mind that this document needs to be updated annually to account for those changes that may have taken place as they grow older.
Historically, a letter of intent has been a physical document that’s held in paper form, either in the home of the person who created it or with the future responsible party. That, in itself, immediately presents a few challenges. For example, what happens if either party misplaces the document? Or worse, what would happen if the future responsible party didn’t realize that the letter of intent was misplaced until it was too late?
Thankfully, we live in a digital age where we no longer have to store important documents in a physical location where they run the risk of being lost or stolen. Now we have options to save important information in electronic form where all parties have access and where updates can be made and shared by a few clicks of a mouse. One company that I have found to be leading the way in simplifying the process for creating a letter of intent is SpecialVest.
What to Include in Your Letter of Intent
Although a letter of intent is generally viewed as an important step in ensuring continuity in quality of life for your child should you pass away, this document also serves an important function while you are still alive. As a financial planner, I take a holistic approach to addressing my clients’ needs. For my clients who are parents of children with special needs, the letter of intent can assist a great deal in ensuring that not only are long-term financial needs being met but that we are also adequately prepared to achieve their vision for their children down the line.
One question that I hear quite a bit is “What information should I include in my letter of intent?” My general answer is “As much as you feel that someone who doesn’t know your child on a day-in, day-out basis would need to know.”
For practical purposes, here are a few things that should absolutely be included:
* The role of the future responsible party: The letter of intent should have a specific section on how much care your child currently requires and how much you expect them to require in the future. It’s important to be very specific about the role that the caregiver (and others—siblings, etc.) will play in your child’s life and the level of care they can expect to provide.
While it’s understandable that these roles may change over time, and their level of involvement may increase or decrease depending on the need, at a minimum you want to set the baseline so the responsible party can have an idea of what to expect.
* Medical history: Additionally, the letter of intent should address any medical, health or wellness issues. You will want to provide your child’s medical history in order for the future responsible party to have an idea of your child’s medical past and know important facts for helping plan for their future.
These are considerations such as medications that they are taking, and therapy or treatment plans that are in place. You should also include contact information for physicians, therapists and any other professionals who preside over the care of your child.
* Lifestyle and living arrangements: Finally, it should be stated how your child wants to live and where they wish to live in the future. Since this is your child’s well-being that we’re talking about, if possible, this is a perfect time to involve them in the process.
For example, if your child is active socially or physically, and you want this to remain the case, you should articulate this inside your letter of intent. In addition, you want to mention lifestyle issues like your child’s favorite foods, activities that they enjoy and how they prefer to spend their leisure time. You will also want to include any further education or career choices that you think would be helpful for the responsible party to know.
The Key to Your Letter of Intent
By now you’re probably thinking that this all sounds like a lot, and you’re right—well, partially. It’s true that creating the letter of intent takes time and probably won’t be accomplished in one sitting. The key is to develop it over time, and this process is made considerably easier with the power of the internet and companies like SpecialVest that walk you step-by-step through the process.
If you are the parent of a child with special needs and have questions about creating a comprehensive financial plan, I would love to speak with you about ways that I can help. You can schedule a complimentary meeting here.