Special Needs Planning for California Residents

photo of a lonely  special needs child

What would happen…

We simply cannot overstate the importance of planning for the care of your special needs loved one.

Caring for a special needs child — or sibling or parent — can be overwhelming even under the best circumstances. 

Consider what will happen to your loved one when the day comes that you can no longer handle that care — or if one day you are unable to make decisions about such care?

Imagine how difficult it would be for a friend or guardian to step in if something were to happen to you?

  • Will your child or loved one get to stay in your home?
  • Will your child or loved one be loved and cared for?
  • Will an important routine be continued or entirely abandoned?
  • What about religious services? Tutoring? Hobbies, recreation or sports? Entertainment? Travel or holidays?
  • Will an inheritance, no matter how small, prevent them from qualifying for essential Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medi-Cal benefits. 
  • Will your loved one be able to have independent medical checkups or dental care?
  • Basic food needs may be met but what about special dietary needs? 
  • What about mobility? Will your loved one have transportation or a personal care attendant?
  • How about a computer or other electronics to aid in communicating with the world and enjoying entertainment?

Special Needs Trust

Fortunately, California allows your assets to be held in a Special Needs Trust (SNT), sometimes called a Supplemental Needs Trust — even while your physically, mentally or emotionally challenged loved one receives SSI and Medi-Cal. This enables your assets to be used to provide for needs other than basic food, housing, clothing, and medication.

With a Special Needs Trust your funds are disbursed to your chosen Trustee — a third party who, in turn, provides the life-enhancing goods and services you want your disabled Beneficiary to have when you’re gone.

Set up properly, your Special Needs Trust can provide the comforts that add so much to your loved one’s life, without disqualifying him/her from receiving SSI and Medi-Cal benefits.

You’ll need to have your Special Needs Trust created for your loved one while you are still able.

Setting up a Special Needs Trust for your child can ensure that your child will be taken care of after your death, even if your surviving spouse remarries or does something else that could jeopardize your child’s situation.

What else can you do to help your Special Needs loved one?

There are other possible issues you might face regarding caring for your loved ones, should you become incapacitated or pass away.

If your Special Needs loved one is a minor, set up a Guardianship

While you can, select a Guardian that best fits your child, and name an alternate as well. Consider personality, availability, age, and commitment, as your child will need extra love. If you don’t set up a Guardianship, the court may choose a Guardian for you. Please visit our Planning for Children page to learn more about protecting your children.

If your Special Needs loved one is a senior, a Conservatorship may be necessary

A Conservatorship is the formal appointment of an official person to be in charge of an adult’s care and/or finances. If your loved one is unable to choose his or her own conservator, then it’s best that you choose one with the help of your attorney. Conservatorships can take a long time and can be an expensive court procedure. We at LA Elder Law will discuss your concerns with you. There may be an alternative that accomplishes the same goals for your loved one. Please see our Conservatorships for Californians page for more information.

For all ages, keep a notebook

Keep a notebook that tells future caretakers about this person’s behaviors, likes, dislikes and schedule. This will minimize the changes your loved one will have to go through and helps his or her routine to be continued.

Some of this will be:

  • Dietary needs including food likes and dislikes.
  • Favorite entertainment programs and mediums. Programs liked and especially those that are disturbing.
  • Sleeping schedule
  • School schedule, if applicable.
  • Medical, therapy or physical therapy schedule, if applicable.
  • Favorite seat in a car or a bus.
  • Favorite clothing.


We know you likely have no time to spare and may be quite exhausted without adding the burden of thinking about all this.

But with the right advisors, setting up a plan that fits your unique situation will relieve you from many of those worries about the future.

A Special Needs Trust is unique to your child, your child’s siblings, your family, and your circumstances. Your family’s needs and security matter to us, so if your loved one resides in California, please take advantage of our free no obligation consultation. Come in and start the discussion.

We will ask you about your situation and concerns, and listen as you tell us about them. We will ask important questions, make informed recommendations, help you choose your best options, and then take care of all legal documentation to put your plans in place.

Going through this process may help you evaluate your current estate options and may help you discover benefits that are, or will be, available to your Special Needs loved one.