Among the challenges of raising a child with special needs is figuring out how to provide for that child once you're gone. If the child will never be able to earn a living, how can you determine how much of your own money to set aside for her care and support, and for the rest of her life?
One way to answer this question is through a free online calculator launched this summer by Harty Financial, a Boston-area financial services firm that focuses on planning for families of special needs children. Utilizing a three-minute questionnaire, the calculator is designed to guide parents through the estate planning process by assessing the cost of everything their child with special needs is likely to need for the duration of his life, anything from medical assistance to food and shelter, clothing, physical therapy, education, and entertainment.
Planning the long-term future of a child with special needs can be the source of enormous stress for parents embarking on the estate planning process, the company's principals note. And while the calculator is not designed to replace one-on-one consultation with an experienced special needs planner, it can help answer some basic questions and move the process forward, they say.
“What we think is really helpful about this calculator,” says Harty Financial co-founder Brendan Harty, “is that it utilizes our own observations about actual costs that parents face, such as housing and lifestyle preferences, rather than asking parents to supply those numbers themselves.”
The calculator, available at www.specialneedsmap.com, asks the user a series of questions about the child's needs as well as the parents' expected longevity and financial profile.
“Though there is no substitute for planning with a family on an individual basis, we believe that this calculator has the potential to be transformative to the millions of Americans with a child with special needs,” says Caleb Harty, Brendan's brother and a co-founder of the firm. “Our objective is to help parents check off the peace-of-mind box, and getting an idea of how much money parents may need to leave behind is one step toward that goal.”
Once the parents of a child with special needs have a clearer idea of this figure, they can begin their planning. They can set money aside in a special needs trust, for example, or apply for life insurance to make sure there will be adequate funds should they die unexpectedly. They may want to make decisions about ongoing care and housing for their child with special needs based on what they can afford now and into the future.