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  • Nicole J. Zuvich

How does autism in your family affect your estate plan?

Updated: Sep 27

Autism seems to be becoming increasingly common nowadays. In fact, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one out of every 44 children in the U.S. currently has autism spectrum disorder. In 2000, the number was one in 150.

If you have a loved one with autism spectrum disorder, you may want to use your estate plan to improve his or her overall quality of life. How you go about this, though, probably depends on your relationship.

Advance directives and health care proxies

If you have a spouse, child or parent who has autism spectrum disorder, you may understand his or her difficulty with making medical decisions. Encouraging your loved one to create an advance directive may give him or her some time to think about medical values.

Similarly, your relative also may want to name a health care proxy who can make his or her medical decisions in the event of his or her incapacitation.

Special needs trusts

You may want to create your own special needs trust, naming your loved one as the beneficiary. Because this trust holds assets for your relative’s benefit, he or she is likely to continue to qualify for means-tested government assistance.

Your loved one can use government funds for basic medical care and living expenses while using disbursements from the special needs trust on supplemental expenses. Travel, home improvements, education and other supplemental expenses government benefits do not cover are likely to make your relative’s life considerably better.

Ultimately, because autism spectrum disorder affects individuals differently, you may need to use both your estate plan and your loved ones to help him or her thrive after an autism diagnosis.

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