This New Year, Write a Letter of Intent for Your Child

  • December 21st, 2022

Young man with Down syndrome embraced by his mother outdoors.If we have learned anything these past few years, it’s that life is fleeting. With the new year now upon us, carve out a bit of time out to cross off one to-do item that will be key to the future of your child with special needs.

For families with children with disabilities, worrying about their loved one’s life in the years ahead is ever-present. Special needs planning allows you to provide for your children upon your death and name a trusted person to step in as a legal guardian. After choosing a guardian, drafting a Letter of Intent is critical to safeguarding your child’s future.

What Does a Letter of Intent Do?

If a guardian ever needs to take responsibility for your child, a Letter of Intent — also known as a Memorandum of Intent — can give the individual a greater understanding of your child’s needs, making the transition smoother.

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Even when you trust the person you nominated as a guardian, the individual might not know how to care for your child. A Letter of Intent prevents confusion or miscommunication from adversely affecting your child’s future.

Although Letters of Intent are not legally binding, they can provide valuable information, guiding your child’s caregiver through important decisions.

What Should Be Included in a Letter of Intent?

With a Letter of Intent, you can give your child’s guardian detailed instructions that are not fleshed out in legal documents. To get you started, here are some suggestions on what to include:

  • An introductory overview of your child. You can provide an overview of your child’s life and your wishes for your child’s future, such as where you think it would be best for your beloved child to live and what kind of care is appropriate.
     
  • Public benefits on which your child relies. Describe any federal benefits your child receives. If your child receives benefits like SSDI or Medicaid, the guardian can learn about these programs to help your child remain eligible.
     
  • Important medical details. To care for your child effectively, the guardian must also know your child’s medical needs. List the names of physicians, types of procedures your child has undergone, any medications your child takes, and prescriptions your child has not responded well to in the past.

    Consider also including family medical history, indicating any predispositions to conditions. Conveying health care information can be particularly important for parents of children with challenges communicating or managing their care. If your child has food allergies or does well on a particular diet, provide dietary instructions.
     
  • Your child’s network and support system.
    Providing information that supports your child’s physical health is crucial, but so is giving details that will help the guardian sustain your child’s mental wellness.

As your child’s family and friends may be vital connections in your absence, list their full names, contact information, and relationship with your child. In some cases, maintaining longstanding friendships can be just as important as keeping up family ties. Children may also have significant connections with their favorite teachers and mentors. Be sure to include details about the activities your child enjoys, from clubs to religious activities.

  • Best practices that work for your child. For a minor child’s parenting needs, you can list the behavioral management techniques that work for your child as well as methods that have been unsuccessful. You can also include behavior management techniques that have supported adult children.
Update Your Letter of Intent Regularly

Your Letter of Intent should be a living document, which you update periodically as your child’s needs and preferences develop. With the start of 2023, block time on your calendar to start – or review and update – the Letter of Intent for your child, striking irrelevant details and adding new developments. As a Letter of Intent is a vital part of your overall plan, you should update it just like you would update a will or other estate planning document.

Since Letters of Intent are not legally binding, they will not take precedence when they conflict with legal documents such as trusts and wills. Your entire estate plan should reflect your wishes for your child.

Speak to your special needs planner to learn more about incorporating a Letter of Intent into your plan for your child.


Last Modified: 12/21/2022
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