The ABC's of Special Needs Planning Made Easy, by Bart Stevens. Scottsdale, AZ: Bart Stevens Special Needs Planning, LLC, 2002. (Available from the publisher, 888-447-2525, www.BSSNP.com)

Everyone needs to do estate planning. In fact, researchers have shown that the majority of adults in the United States do not have a current will. It is expected that trillions of dollars will change hands in the next 15 years through inheritance. Yet many Americans have not done any type of estate planning.

Many families have been planning for their children's futures for years. Some people buy U.S. Savings Bonds, purchase zero-coupon bonds for college, invest in property, or establish a uniform trust to minors. The point is that there are many vehicles for financial planning for children. When developing a financial future plan for a child, a key decision point is their expected future income sources. Special needs planning is an essential must for children and adults whose future income sources will be government benefits such as Social Security and Medicaid.

This book is a great resource for people who are dependent on state and federal benefits for their basic supports and income. It is one of the simplest tools that I have read on special needs planning because it provides a clear, step-by-step guide for helping individuals, families, and professionals to understand the law and then to make informed decisions to plan for the future. This book stresses quality of life, security, and provides a legal guide to allowing income to be available for supplemental needs such as vacations, advocacy, orthodontics, communication devices, hearing aids, and going out to dinner.

Special needs planning using supplemental trusts and OBRA payback trusts can seem quite complex. Actually, it is not that difficult. A big misconception about trusts is that they are only for the wealthy. Special needs trusts have been created for individuals who have inherited as little as $5,000. It is important is to create a financial vehicle, through which money from inheritance can be added without jeopardizing one's government benefits. The good news is that even if a special needs trust is not created, one can always establish a payback trust as well.

Some adults with disabilities may be very low-income, but they still have the capacity to inherit money from their families, may be eligible for a Social Security payback, or may receive a large settlement related to personal injury or some other form of individual or classification litigation. Those assets need to be protected. In this book Stevens not only explains how to legally protect those assets, but also how to use them in the future. Money from a supplemental trust can be used to pay for college or adult education, provide a down payment on a house or condominium, or provide capital to start a business. This book is a must read for professionals and families wanting to identify another tool toward self-determination.

Stevens is proactive in the area of self-advocacy. He promotes the inclusion of the individual with a disability in the planning process. His approach to planning is to first focus on the individual's abilities and then “fill in the gaps” where they need assistance. There is no reason why a person with a disability should not have the same opportunities to shelter income and provide for their supplemental needs as everyone else.

This simple guide allows readers to know how to complete a comprehensive plan for the future. There are tips on finding qualified supports, such as an attorney who understands the mechanics of special needs trusts. A financial future plan that is crafted according to the law allows an individual to maintain government benefits, makes available supplemental funds for a comfortable lifestyle, and provides sound investment management of the funds. The plan should also have instructions for a dignified final arrangement and avoid family conflict.

This book is full of resources. Stevens is especially clear in his direction on accessing Social Security benefits. After reading this valuable resource, readers will know that a special needs trust is designed to provide for an individual's supplemental needs beyond what is provided through government benefits. These trusts are irrevocable. The funds in a special needs trust cannot replace government programs. This type of trust is not considered an asset for determining government benefits.

This is an indispensable handbook written in a style that is easy to understand. This book will motivate you to plan for your own future—and people you support who receive government benefits.

Enjoy!