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Chocolate Cake, Purple Hair Dye, & Lorrie Morgan: Special Needs Planning Done Right

01.22.2019

What do chocolate cake, purple hair dye, Lorrie Morgan, and Alexa have in common? On first or even second glance, most of you would find nothing that these random things have in common, unless you know a gentleman named Doug. These are some of his favorite things.

Doug's parents became our clients over a decade ago. They came to Chambliss for special needs planning while they were in their early 70's, still working and Doug was living at home with them. Doug was born with developmental disabilities that affect his cognition and physical abilities. He has been cared for by his family throughout his whole life. This is not an uncommon occurrence for parents who have a child with a disability. Like Doug's, most parents worry about what will happen to their adult child with a disability when they are no longer able to care for them. This often keeps parents up at night. 

Doug's situation is one where the proper planning has really paid off. His father passed away first, and then last year his mom died. But before that happened, his parents and siblings came together to make a plan. In their estate plan, they included a third party special needs trust that allows Doug to receive public benefits which assist with his housing and care costs so that the money that was put aside for him can be used to supplement those basic needs. As Doug's Care Coordinator, I have been lucky enough to be part of his circle of support since his mom's passing. I regularly attend his care team meetings with the staff of his group home, therapists, nurses, and his brother who is his conservator. We communicate often by email and calls to keep up with Doug's needs. The wonderful thing about having a supplemental needs trust is the money can be used for almost anything that enhances Doug's quality of life, as long as we have the approval of the trustee. 

I love my part in this process. At my first team meeting last fall, I asked everyone including Doug to think about Doug's favorite things, what he likes to do, and what might give him happiness. I asked everyone to think out-of-the box and not limit the ideas because they fear they might be impossible. As a result of these brainstorming sessions, I found out that Doug loved the country music star Lorrie Morgan. After doing a quick internet search, I found out that she was playing in Hiawassee, Georgia at the Georgia Mountain Fall Festival. A couple of phone calls later, I was able to secure free tickets, VIP seating, and a meet and greet for Doug and his brother and sister-in-law! Lorrie even spent time back stage with Doug and his family.

Initially, I thought we would use some of his trust fund money to buy the tickets and pay a caregiver to take him. Luckily enough, those were given to us for free, and his family didn't want to miss out on the experience, so we didn't have to hire anyone to take him. However, we could have done this with the trust money. Since that time, his trust has paid for a weekly outing to his favorite restaurants, an Alexa Echo Show system that allows his brother to call/video chat whenever he wants, and an ongoing supply of chocolate cake. The Echo Show is set up to answer automatically and start streaming so that Doug can see and talk to his brother at any time. Next up for Doug are movie tickets and an aquarium membership. AND, since Doug's parents participated in special needs planning prior to their deaths, he was able to apply for and receive public disability benefits through Medicaid, Social Security, and Medicare. Combined, these pay for his housing, medical, and care needs so that the money his parents saved could be used to give him the extras that make such a difference in his life. 

If you know someone who has a child with a disability and are interested in special needs planning, our Chambliss Elder Law and Special Needs Planning team is here to help. A solid plan with a personal touch can make all the difference in the world.