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Financial planning for those who can't

BY TERRY SAVAGE Published: June 11, 2012

Many families focus on Mother's Day and Father's Day during this season of the year. But for many moms and dads, it is a bittersweet recognition. They are parents of children with disabilities — children who will never be fully capable of caring for themselves, living independently, earning a living and managing their finances.

For them, the task of parenting has a never-ending timeline. And what they worry about most is what will happen when they, in all likelihood, pass on ahead of their children.

How do you create a lifetime plan for someone who will always need care? It's not only a question of money, but a question of responsibility. Fortunately, there is a financial planner who has dedicated her life to creating a planning system for families of children with disabilities.

Mary Anne Ehlert's interest in planning for these children started with her own sister, whose disabilities as result of cerebral palsy affected the entire family. The story is detailed in Ehlert's book, "The Gift I Was Given."

The need to confront the issues of financing and planning for her sister led Ehlert to create a simple workbook designed to chronicle life histories and catalog important information. It has since grown into a broad-based planning and advocacy program for the disabled.

You can find it all at The website describes it best: "Protected Tomorrows Inc. is an advocacy firm that enhances the lives of people with special needs through a comprehensive life planning process.

We create Future Care Plans, which address the needs of the individual with developmental disabilities, mental illness, physical disabilities or cognitive and neurological diseases in the following areas: education, residential, legal, financial, health care, government benefits and employment."

There are several ways to access all the assistance and information. Over the years, I've watched — and written about — Mary Anne as she works with families to help them find resources and work with attorneys to create special needs trusts to give their children the best opportunities.

She also has a staff of planners who develop and coordinate care plans. There are even group sessions, where as many as 20 families learn the do's and don'ts of planning for their children.

The real genius, though, is Mary Anne's recognition that many families can't afford this kind of intensive planning. So she created a computerized program that costs $129 to get started, plus an annual fee of $29.

It is an online program that helps families think through all the decisions that must be made on behalf of their children.

— Who will be the future caregivers and trustees?

— How can money be set aside for care without affecting federal benefit programs?

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