Autism Awareness Month: 4 Legal Safeguards for Kids and Teens With Special Needs

MARIETTA, Ga. - April 10, 2017 - PRLog -- Autism Awareness Month seeks to educate the public about the needs and challenges facing those with autism spectrum disorders.  Marietta, Georgia, special needs planning attorney Steve Worrall of Georgia Estate Plan: Worrall Law LLC, explains four legal strategies to ensure children and teens with special needs are financially secure, transition smoothly into adulthood and are prepared to receive a lifetime of care, even when the parents are gone someday.

According to, the disorder affects one in 68 children in the United States, with boys being five times more likely than girls to be diagnosed on the spectrum. The dramatic increase in the prevalence of autism has led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to warn that the disorder is now a "national public health crisis".

Yet while autism awareness is at an all-time high, Marietta, Georgia attorney, Worrall, warns that many parents are still struggling to get the help and resources they need to ensure their child is financially secure, transitions smoothly into adulthood and is prepared to receive a lifetime of care, even when the parents are gone someday.

"As much as parents of special needs children hate to think about it, there will come a time when they are physically unable—or perhaps no longer alive—to oversee their child's care," warns Worrall.  "That's why legal plans must be put in place as soon as a diagnosis of autism is made to ensure the child is able to enjoy as much independence as possible, has a smooth transition from childhood into adulthood and enjoys full financial security for the future," he adds.

Worrall recommends that parents focus on planning in the following four areas:

1.     Name Guardians- Worrall urges parents to immediately name short and long-term guardians who can oversee their child's care if something unexpectedly happens to them. Without such designations in place, the child could end up in a lengthy custody battle—or worse—be placed in foster care if the unthinkable happens.  Worrall advises parents to think outside the box and focus on finding someone whose love and dedication to the child closely resemble their own. Finally, parents should give copies of their designations to the guardians themselves, as well as the child's school, babysitters and even the neighbors so everyone knows exactly who to call if a crisis strikes.

2.     Set up a Special Needs Trust- A special needs trust is a legal tool that ensures a disabled child's health care and living needs are taken care of if something happens to mom or dad.  Worrall explains that while many parents have good intentions of leaving their child life insurance benefits or other assets in a will if they die, doing so could jeopardize their eligibility for Social Security or Medicaid in the future (which is often the only health care option available).  Instead, a trust helps to ensure that the child receives such financial benefits without actually having assets in their name—thus leaving all government benefits intact.

3.    Prepare to file for Guardianship when the child reaches age 18.  When a child with disabilities becomes a "legal adult," parents must obtain a court ordered guardianship in order to retain the right to manage his or her affairs and make medical decisions.  Parents should educate themselves about the guardianship process well before the child's 18th birthday to ensure the right court orders or other alternative documents are in place (such Powers of Attorneys and Healthcare Directives for high-functioning teens) to avoid being barred from speaking to doctors, financial institutions and benefits administrators on their child's behalf.

4.    Build a Team of Support- According to Worrall, it's never too early to begin building a team of trusted caregivers and advisors who can immediately step in and help the child if a crisis occurs.   Team members may include the child's legal guardians, a trusted doctor, financial advisor, estate planning attorney and dedicated family or friends.  Building such a team now also helps to ensure you have the right people in place, as opposed to someone who will prey upon your child's disability in an emergency.

"Parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum must go into planning with the mindset that their child will require a lifetime of care," says Worrall.  "Fortunately, by starting with these four key steps, parents will make tremendous progress in ensuring their child is physically and financially cared for, no matter what the future holds.

For more information or to contact Steve Worrall, see

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