Special Needs Planning


Gifted with special needs 

Greatness comes in many forms.  Nikola Tesla, inventor of AC motors and power systems, showed “signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and was potentially a high-functioning autistic”. “From an early age, he demonstrated the obsessiveness that would puzzle and amuse those around him” (King, The Rise and Fall of Nikola Tesla and his Tower).

Narrow but intense focus

Fine tuning a talent may come at the cost of tuning other people out. Though many creative geniuses have been considered to fall on the high-functioning spectrum of autism, they may have limitations in other areas of their lives (Barber, The Autism-Genius Connection).  Because of this, family members need to step in to help fill the gaps in the life of a person with special needs.  Family members will need to plan and prepare for the various stages of life of a special needs individual.  The intent of this article is to highlight certain circumstances for special needs planning which differ from traditional planning.  Special needs includes but is not limited to developmental categories like Down’s Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder, physical needs such as multiple sclerosis, behavior issues including bi-polar, and sensory impairments inclusive of blindness or deafness. 

Planning stages

When diagnosed early, from birth to age 3, parents are often referred to Early Intervention (EI) programs.  When the child reaches age 3 he or she will be entitled to public education services.  It is at ages 16-21 that authors John W. Nadworny, CFP® and Cynthia R. Haddad, CFP® strongly recommend parents begin “to think ahead to the day your young adult turns 22, when the bus no longer arrives to take him or her to school” (Nadworny and Haddad, The special needs planning guide: how to prepare for every stage of your child’s life).  It is at this stage when parents need to focus on what they envision for the life of their child with special needs when public education and associated services are no longer an entitlement.  At age 18 they may qualify for government benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid and it is important to protect these benefits with careful planning strategies.  Living at home with parents verses successfully living in an independent setting becomes another important factor  (Nadworny and Haddad).  Additional considerations include estate planning with a special needs trust to help protect benefits currently and in the future.  Down the road when you retire, become disabled, or pass away, your adult child may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) if you are “insured” which is based on your work history (Nadworny and Haddad). 

Impact of family and friends

An essential piece of special needs planning is to communicate properly with family and friends so they do not inadvertently disqualify the special needs individual from government benefits.  To qualify for SSI and Medicaid the person can have no more than $2000 in assets as SSI only pays benefits to those with “limited income and resources” (Social Security).  Imagine the devastating affect if loving grandparents were to leave the special needs person an inheritance.  They could unintentionally disqualify the person for government benefits by leaving them even a small gift.  This is why communication of special needs planning practices with family and friends is so critical.   


“Brilliant people tend to beat to their own drum – so that weird kid always sitting alone at lunch with his invention was most likely thinking outside of the box, and could also very likely be the boss of you now”.  (Cohen, 5 Traits Of Extraordinarily Brilliant People).  Someone with special needs may bring challenges, joy and great love to their family.  Providing proper protection during their various stages of life will have a great impact on their overall success.  Special needs planning can have complex strategies, so working with a team of professionals like doctors, a Certified Financial Planner ™, attorneys, and CPA may help streamline the process.    

About the Author

My name is Marianne Martini Nolte and I’m a Certified Financial Planner™ practitioner.  I provide financial planning services for individuals, families, and small business owners.  In particular, I have a passion for working with women in transition, new investors just starting on their path to financial independence, and those seeking  special needs planning.  For more in depth information, please contact me at my firm, Imagine Financial Services www.imaginefinancialservices.com   


Barber, Nigel.  The Autism-Genius Connection. Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 11 May 2017, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-human-beast/201705/the-autism-genius-connection.

Cohen, Jennifer.  5 Traits Of Extraordinarily Brilliant People. Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 30 June 2015, www.forbes.com/sites/jennifercohen/2015/06/30/5-traits-of-extraordinarily-brilliant-people/.

King, Gilbert. The Rise and Fall of Nikola Tesla and His Tower. Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 4 Feb. 2013, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-rise-and-fall-of-nikola-tesla-and-his-tower-11074324/.

Nadworny, John W., and Cynthia R. Haddad. The Special Needs Planning Guide: How to Prepare for Every Stage of Your Child’s Life. P.H. Brookes, 2007.

Social Security. SSA, 2020, www.ssa.gov/benefits/ssi/.

The opinions expressed in this newsletter (article) are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific investment advice or recommendations for any individual. It is suggested that you consult your financial professional, attorney, or tax advisor with regard to your individual situation. The views expressed are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect those held by PlanMember Securities Corporation. Material presented is believed to be from a reliable sources and PSEC makes no representation as to accuracy or completeness. 

Representative is registered with and offers only securities and advisory services through PlanMember Securities Corporation (PSEC), a registered broker/dealer, investment advisor and member FINRA/SIPC. 6187 Carpinteria Ave, Carpinteria, CA. 93013, (800) 874-6910. Imagine Financial Services and PlanMember Securities Corporation are independently owned and operated companies. PlanMember is not responsible or liable for ancillary products or services offered by Imagine Financial Services or this representative.  Marianne Martini Nolte, CA Insurance Lic #0J02045.