Workshops in Westboro to offer financial planning tips for special needs parents


It’s tough enough to be a parent, let alone a parent of a child with special needs.

According to legal experts, one of the toughest things for parents of special needs children is establishing how are they going to take care of them once they become adults and still can’t take care of themselves.

When it comes to special needs planning, Michael Scott, charter retirement planning counselor at Waymark Wealth Management in Westboro, said there is a lot of complexity that combines with the stigma of mental illness. It ends up being disastrous for many families in many ways.

“Just put yourself in the mind of a family that maybe has a son or a daughter with a major illness, schizophrenia, bipolar, whatever it might be,” Mr. Scott said. “These families have a lifelong burden. So imagine being a parent and knowing my son or daughter has a high probability of never being able to manage their own finances, may never be able to enter in the workforce, be self-sufficient, on their own. So, number one, parents already have this heavy, heavy burden on their shoulders. Number two, it’s very rare that these families will actually go out there and start openly sharing it with other people.”

To help special needs parents, a series of workshops is planned for later this month and in March. Titled “Special Needs Planning: Complex Problems, Simple Solutions,” the workshops will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 26; 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 27; and at times to be determined on March 29 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Westboro.

The series is sponsored by the Westboro Special Education Parent Advisory Council, the Metrowest National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Advocates Inc.

Parents of a special needs child have the added financial burden of taking care of their child even after the child is grown and the parents are gone. So the parents have to have a balance between how much they need to live on and how much they can afford to put aside, Mr. Scott said.

“If you’re not financially stable and strong, how in the world are you going to be able to help your son and daughter, who most likely will need your financial support again in the future?” Mr. Scott said. “So it’s tough, because that doesn’t always compute for parents. For a lot of parents, they are going to do whatever they are able to do for their child to help.”

Mr. Scott cites alarming statistics, including that one in four families copes with having a loved one who has been diagnosed with mental illness or special needs. Mr. Scott said many parents are in denial about this, so he would venture that the number of families with a loved one with mental illness is even higher.

Mr. Scott said the earlier such parents do the appropriate estate planning for their child’s special needs, the better it’s going to be for them, not only financially but emotionally.

David Guarino of Fletcher Tilton PC in Worcester and co-chairman of the firm’s Taxation Practice Group, said parents of special needs children often care for a child during their lifetime. What they are concerned about is what happens afterward.

“It’s very challenging for the families to say, well, we always envisioned we would take care of Junior and then they have to make some harder decision on who would do that when we’re gone,” Mr. Guarino said.

“It’s very challenging for some parents to come to the point of saying, my son actually does need help. Often, you have people say, ‘Well, he’s fine. He’ll be all right,’ that sort of thing,” Mr. Guarino explained. “It’s definitely easier for families who have a child with a profound developmental disability to acknowledge that kid needs some help, while someone with mental illness can run a gamut of ups and downs.”

Mr. Guarino said most of his special needs estate planning clients fall somewhere in the spectrum. Special needs trusts are designed to protect people who really can’t protect themselves, while maintaining benefit eligibility for the person based on financial status, he said.

Rachel Gans-Boriskin, president of the Westboro Special Education Parent Advisory Council and life coach of Connect Evolve Thrive Coaching, acknowledges it can be very difficult for parents of a special needs child to plan for the future when every day, there’s another expense to attend to. Still, she said, a “safety net” is crucial.

“You want to be sure they are taken care of when you are gone because, so many of us, we’re their everything,” Ms. Gans-Boriskin said. “Imagining a world without us (their parents) in it, for them, is terrifying for us and for our children. So to be able to (financially) plan for the future, that is highly important. It’s stressful, but at the same time, you have needs of the moment that need to be met. ”

Presenters at the workshops include Mr. Scott and Mr. Guarino, as well as Elise Kopley at Fletcher Tilton.

To register for any sessions of “Special Needs Planning: Complex Problems, Simple Solutions,” sign up online at (under the Seminars & Events tab), or call Blair Sutphen at (508) 459-8021 or email her at“> Seating is limited.

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Copyright 2014 Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp.

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