Every parent wants to make sure that their children – whatever their age – are taken care of after their death. This is vitally important in the case of children with a disability who may need additional support.
Assistant solicitor Kearney Coffin, who works in the Wills and Probate department of Curtis Whiteford Crocker, says parents may want to be fair when it comes to dividing up assets in their will but it can be difficult to achieve the best outcome for the family and in the best interests of a disabled child.
Parents may feel they can’t or shouldn’t include that child in their Will and may consider leaving money to someone else with the intention they use it for the benefit of the disabled child. The request is not binding, however, and can be spent in any way, or lost altogether if the recipient dies and the money is not ring-fenced in their will.
The fund could also be depleted in the event of that relative’s bankruptcy or divorce.
“In some cases families feel giving their inheritance to a relative is a safe option but they aren’t aware of the risks – you shouldn’t leave everything in the belief the family will look after them because the money could be lost or misused. It may seem a solution but ultimately could end up not benefiting the disabled child”.
According to the charity the Disabled Living Foundation, there are 800,000 disabled children in the UK under the age of 16 – that equates to one child in 20 – and 99.1 per cent of them live at home, supported by their families.
Kearney says concerns about providing for a disabled child is a growing area of wills and probate work.
“It’s important to get it right when people can’t be left money outright,” she says. “A trust is absolutely necessary.”
Including a trust in your will would protect funds from risk as the trustees have a legal obligation to manage the funds in accordance with the terms of the trust and allows flexibility when dealing with a child’s changing needs. You can also determine what happens to the trust fund in the event of your child’s death.
A Letter of Wishes explaining the reason for the trust and your intentions, while not legally binding, serves as useful guidance to your trustees.
Changes to Inheritance Tax rules also make it important to plan properly, says Kearney. If your child is under 18 you will also need to think about guardians to take care of them in the event of your death. And if you have an adult disabled child, you could consider what impact a bequest will have on any benefits they receive – if their savings exceed government limits it could mean benefits cease.
“Making a will is a good opportunity to look at things as a whole. We see many different complex family structures these days and it can be a very emotional subject but it is important to make sure you are benefitting the people you wish to inherit, and in the most appropriate way,” says Kearney.
“We look at all the possible scenarios; all the ‘what ifs’. I tell people it’s good to have a Plan A, and a Plan B and a Plan C.”