Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Family Holiday Parties: A Time for Sharing Fun, Sharing Facts

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Family Holiday Parties: A Time for Sharing Fun, Sharing Facts

Article excerpt

We're in the midst of the biggest holiday season. It's a time when many families gather together to celebrate, catch up on family news, and enjoy the company of friends and family members not seen often enough during the year.

We're in the midst of the biggest holiday season. It's a time when many families gather together to celebrate, catch up on family news, and enjoy the company of friends and family members not seen often enough during the year.

For families who face special needs challenges on a regular basis, this holiday time can be a welcomed break from routine. It might also be an excellent opportunity for face-to-face, heart-to-heart chats that help your friends and family:

* understand the issues you face,

* learn how they can help,

* feel your appreciation for the help and gifts they've given, and

* know how gifts they may give to a person with special needs may inadvertently become problematic.

Broaching the subject can be difficult, as Deanna Olsen, CFP, CLU, ChFC, CLTC, explains. Olsen has earned the Chartered Special Needs Consultant (ChSNC) (1) designation and is a Special Care Planner in Clarkston, MI, associated with Detroit Financial Group in Farmington Hills, a general agency of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual).

"You want them to understand your circumstances, without feeling that you're complaining or spoiling the party atmosphere," Olsen says, "and you want them to know you appreciate what they do for you, without implying you expect their help or their gifts."

"It's a fine line," says Timothy Martin, CFP, ChSNC, who is also a Special Care Planner with Detroit Financial Group, "but it's important that you share certain information with those closest to you. We urge our clients to call a family meeting after they've put together a financial strategy or life care plan (2). It's the best way to share what you've done. However, if an opportunity avails itself at a family gathering, take advantage of it."

Letting family know what gifts are acceptable

If your spouse or child with special needs is receiving government benefits, or may need to apply for them at some point in the future, having assets greater than $2,000 can make him or her ineligible for benefits. Here are some ways to protect that eligibility.

Martin suggests looking for openings in conversations where you can talk about receiving financial gifts. "Money, savings bonds, the start of a college savings plan, being named in a will or as a beneficiary to a life insurance policy or other investment account -to name a few can have consequences, so if a related topic comes up for discussion, let them know how your family might be affected."

"Another way to protect eligibility is if family members or friends call before the holidays to ask what they might give as gifts," says Olsen. "Tell them what's on your family's wish lists, but also mention how gifts of money, if they choose that option, may be given." (See next section for more information.)

"This is also a good time to let family know that gifts of time are also welcome," adds Martin. Suggest they spend time out with your family member with special needs--a movie date, ball game, or a trip to a museum, perhaps--to give you a break. Or ask if they might help with care or transportation on a particular day.

If your family member with special needs has a special needs trust (SNT), tell family members how to direct gifts to the trust. "If the trust is a first-party trust," explains Olsen, "which is a trust established

by the person with money of his or her own, such as a settlement from a lawsuit or insurance claim, additional deposits are usually not made. However, most third-party trusts, those established by someone other than the trust beneficiary, are structured so funds, including gifts from others, can be directed to the trust at any time. …

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