Planning for the future is an activity that parents often say they’ll get to “some day.” This is especially true when your days are filled with raising a family and caring for a child with autism. It’s often difficult to picture the day when your child will live independently, and even harder still to recognize that as a parent, you won’t be in your child’s life forever.
Parents of a child with autism face unique challenges, and a financial plan for the future can provide a buffer from unexpected surprises. No matter what, parents should start an early conversation about financial issues and seek as much information as they can.
“In many ways, preparing for the future does not have to be starkly different for these parents than it is for parents of a child without autism but there are some very important differences to consider,” says Kristin Rohrbeck, Director of The Joanne and Ted Lindsay Foundation Autism Outreach Services (OUCARES) at Oakland University, an organization that provides across-the-lifespan support to individuals with autism and their broader communities.
Rohrbeck suggests families start early by asking questions and finding resources to help them achieve future needs. While parents typically have access to information about how to save for their child’s college costs, they may not know about savings programs for costs related to autism therapies their child needs now, and for future needs, too. MiABLE is a financial tool for families to save funds for expenses related to their disability.
Consider your child’s needs today and tomorrow
Families seeking resources from OUCARES can learn about MiABLE, as well as grants and financial assistance programs available to individuals with autism to access opportunities. “One of the first resources I share with families is MiABLE, because it can be so beneficial for so many families,” Rohrbeck says.
One important benefit of a MiABLE account is that it will not negatively impact the account holder’s eligibility for government benefits they need, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid. Typically, an individual’s eligibility is limited if they report more than $2,000 in financial resources.
Through MiABLE, parents, caregivers, friends and other individuals can contribute up to $16,000 per year, and assets in the MiABLE account can reach $100,000 before affecting eligibility for SSI. Because funds from MiABLE can be used on expenses related to the individual’s disability and help improve or maintain quality of life or health, there are many ways these funds can be used.
When a child becomes employed, they can continue to contribute to their MiABLE account with additional funds beyond the annual $16,000 contribution limit, if they don’t have access to a retirement plan with their employer. This additional contribution amount can be equal to their current-year gross income or an amount equal to the federal poverty level for a one-person household, whichever is less.
Planning for the future means saving now
There is a lot to know about MiABLE and Rohrbeck encourages families to learn as much as they can. “Start asking questions early,” suggests Rohrbeck. “It’s never too early to start finding resources for the future. It’s better to be informed and know what your resources are and what options are available before you are forced into making a decision you are not prepared for.”
Other families are often the best source of support, so OUCARES works hard to connect families with teens or young adults with autism to families in an earlier stage of their lived experience.
“Parents who have already gone through situations are an invaluable resource,” Rohrbeck explains. Some of the most important questions revolve around a child’s financial future, so reach out and ask if other families have a MiABLE account in addition to other forms of disability savings. “There’s that extra perspective and a window of opportunities to think about issues and learn about supports you wouldn’t otherwise know about,” she says.
Enjoy the rewarding parts and share them
Family members who might otherwise contribute to a child’s college savings or 529 account may feel uncertain how to provide financial gifts to a child who may not attend college — and they sometimes hold back or opt to give cash gifts to the parents instead.
To start the conversation about present and future financial needs, Rohrbeck suggests parents and siblings openly share all the wonderful things they see in their family member every day.
“The nuclear family members know these amazing qualities but other family members might not realize their abilities. Informing them and sharing their amazing skills can be very important,” she says. “If higher education is not an option, you can start a conversation with others about options that might be a better fit to continue their growth.”
MiABLE makes it easy for loved ones and family friends to help financially, and they can even contribute directly to the MiABLE account online.
And here’s some good news for contributors: any Michigan resident who provides a charitable contribution to an existing MiABLE account can take a deduction of up to $5,000 — or $10,000 for joint filers — from their Michigan income tax.
This tax benefit is a smart way for family and friends to help their loved one with autism build financial self-sufficiency — without impacting eligibility for government benefits — no matter their age.
Gather resources and lean into them
Worries shared by families include what will happen to their child when they are no longer here and what role do they anticipate siblings will play in their support and care? No matter what decisions families make for the future, a strong financial plan should be among their choices.
“Financial planning changes a lot throughout life. At young ages, families may be dealing with how to pay for copays for early intensive therapies, if those therapies are even covered by insurance. At older ages, families may be more focused on financial planning for housing solutions,” Rohrbeck shares. “Other times, a parent may consider how to cover resources needed for assistive communication devices or respite care? These are incredible challenges families have to face.”
Families should never worry that it’s too late to build some peace of mind by creating a financial plan. “The financial challenges can be overwhelming but with many options available, like MiABLE and other resources, families can have a positive outlook for their own futures and the futures of their children,” Rohrbeck says. “Families do share their challenges but many times they can create a more secure future for their child with programs like MiABLE.”
Content sponsored by MiABLE. Learn more at savewithable.com.