Financial & Long-Term Planning for Special Needs Futures – Part 3: Legal

Quick Overview

In this webinar, Mary Ann Ehlert discusses the importance of legal planning in the special needs world. She emphasizes the need to find an attorney who specializes in special needs law and can help with creating a third-party special needs trust. This trust allows for the safe management of funds for a person with disabilities without jeopardizing their government benefits. Ehlert also highlights the importance of choosing the right guardians and trustees who will be responsible for making decisions and managing the trust. She advises individuals to communicate their wishes to their family members and to take action in setting up the necessary legal documents.

Welcome to Protected Tomorrows! In this webinar, we will be discussing legal planning in the special needs world. I am not an attorney, but as a financial person and advocate for special needs, I will provide you with an understanding of what an attorney can do for you and the important aspects of legal planning.


I have a personal connection to this topic as my sister, Marsha, had cerebral palsy and was developmentally delayed. She taught me the importance of thinking about the future and planning for the needs of individuals with special needs. I have learned from my parents’ experiences and conversations with attorneys, and I hope to share my insights with you today.

The Importance of Legal Planning

At Protected Tomorrows, our mission is to help families ensure a safe and fulfilling life for their family members with special needs. We want to empower you to create a plan that will support your child’s best interests and provide peace of mind.

The Eight-Step Process

We have an eight-step process to guide you through the planning journey. In this session, we will focus on step three: filtering the legal options. This step involves thinking about how to put legal measures in place to ensure your child’s safety and happiness.

The Team Approach

Creating a strong support team is crucial in special needs planning. The team should include a coach, trustees, guardians, and other professionals who can provide guidance and support. In this session, we will focus on trustees and guardians and their roles in the planning process.

Third-Party Special Needs Trust

A third-party special needs trust is a crucial legal tool for protecting your child’s financial future. This trust is funded by someone other than the person with a disability and is spent on supplemental care that government benefits do not cover. It is important to work with an attorney who specializes in special needs law to ensure the trust is set up correctly.

Payback Trusts

In some cases, there may already be funds in your child’s name that need to be protected. Payback trusts, also known as first-party trusts, can be used to hold these funds while still allowing your child to qualify for government benefits. It is important to follow the specific rules and regulations surrounding these trusts.

Finding an Attorney

Finding the right attorney is crucial in the legal planning process. Look for attorneys who specialize in special needs law and have experience in this area. Organizations such as NAELA, the Special Needs Alliance, and Special Needs Planners can provide resources and directories to help you find the right attorney for your needs.

Making Difficult Decisions

Legal planning also involves making difficult decisions, such as choosing guardians for your child and determining how to distribute your assets. It is important to consider both the emotional and practical aspects of these decisions and communicate your wishes clearly in your legal documents.

Planning for the Age of Majority

When your child reaches the age of majority, they gain legal rights and responsibilities. It is important to consider whether your child has the capacity to make decisions independently or if guardianship or conservatorship is necessary. Discussing these options with an attorney can help you make the best decision for your child’s future.

Taking Action

After this session, take some time to reflect on what you have learned and identify the next steps you need to take. Whether it’s finding an attorney, reviewing your existing legal documents, or communicating your wishes to your family, taking action is crucial in the planning process.


Legal planning is a vital part of ensuring a secure future for your child with special needs. By understanding the options available and working with the right professionals, you can create a comprehensive plan that protects your child’s best interests. Remember to take action and communicate your wishes to your support team.

Talk details

  • Title: Financial & long-term planning for special needs futures – 3. Legal
  • Author(s): Mary Anne Ehlert
  • Author(s)’ affiliation: Protected Tomorrows
  • Publication date: 2021-09-07
  • Collection: 2021 ASF Virtual Family Conference