âOne of the greatest challenges parents of children with disabilities face is providing their loved one with financial security,â said Chris Sullivan, head of Special Needs Financial Services for Merrill Lynch. âThanks to medical advancements, people with special needs are living longer, fuller lives than ever thought possible. This welcome trend has left many families unprepared to provide a lifetime of financial support while also achieving other important goals.â
A unique resource in the financial services industry, the Special Needs Calculator analyzes an individualâs needs based on the input of financial information and projected life expectancy. This easy-to-use, yet comprehensive tool factors in several variables, including projected income of an individual with special needs, monthly expenses, such as housing, transportation, special education and health care costs, as well as federal and state government benefits. The calculator also factors in parentsâ number of years until retirement, with the flexibility to modify assumptions about return on investments and inflation rates.
With this tool, families can identify potential shortfalls in their ability to sustain the quality of life of an individual with special needs long after parents or caregivers retire. A Merrill Lynch Financial Advisor can help to place these results within the context of broader financial goals and to develop a strategy to help achieve them. Based on its design, the calculator can be accessed online, via an iPad and other tablets and smartphones, allowing our clients and their advisors to use it during planning discussions when and where itâs convenient.
The Special Needs Calculator is the latest addition to the Merrill Lynch Special Needs Financial Services Program, which was established in 1999 to serve the needs of this community and remains the only program of its kind.
As part of the program, Merrill Lynch Financial Advisors receive training about special needs planning to help ensure families and individuals receive professional advice that meets their needs. This training helps our advisors better understand the unique challenges families can face, along with the availability of government benefits, the use of special needs trusts, and the importance of establishing relationships with specialized attorneys and disability organizations when creating an integrated financial and life planning strategy. Through this training, advisors earn Certified Special Needs Advisor (CSNA) designations, which today are held by nearly 2,300 Merrill Lynch Financial Advisors and more than 200 client associates nationwide.
Special needs planning can be critically important for a growing population, with approximately 21 million families in the U.S. caring for a member with special needs, and one in every 26 families raising a child with a disability1. We believe that to do so effectively requires a team-based approach, through which Merrill Lynch CSNAs will often collaborate with special needs trust attorneys, local care managers, disability and medical professionals, and tax advisers to address the financial, social and legal issues faced by individuals with special needs and their families.
âMerrill Lynchâs calculator and special needs program fill a major gap in the planning resources available to this community,â says RenÃ©e Lovelace, founder of The Lovelace Law Firm and a member of the Special Needs Alliance, a national organization of attorneys devoted to special needs planning. âThe new online resource makes it easier to see how long a familyâs financial assets may last when paying for all or part of the expenses of an individual who has special needs. Its flexibility enables us to review multiple scenarios and have more realistic discussions with families and advisors.â
The Special Needs Calculator and additional information about the Merrill Lynch Special Needs Financial Services Program are available at http://www.ml.com/specialneeds. Parents and caregivers can also download a Special Needs Planning Workbook to complete a more detailed and qualitative analysis of the individualâs needs, and call toll-free 877.456.7526 to connect with a local Certified Special Needs Advisor in their area.
1 2005, U.S. Census Special Report