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Why grandma’s holiday check could be the worst gift for a special needs child

Mon, 10/13/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - You know that little check you can always count on from grandma or grandpa around the holidays? It could be the worst gift your child gets this year, if he or she is a child with special needs.

If a child with disabilities accumulates more than $2,000 in total assets - including money in a bank account, bonds, or CDs - the child and his family could lose thousands of dollars in government funding and services. These resources are crucial and help keep some families from going broke paying to care for and educate their children.

“The government has strict limits on how much money can be in the child’s name, and the limit is very low,” says Joanne Gruszkos, director of the SpecialCare program at Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). The SpecialCare program gives special needs families access to information, specialists, financial products and critical services.

“If a child with special needs has more than $2,000 in his name, the government could freeze benefits such as Medicaid, Medicare, Supplemental Security Income, or Social Security Disability Income,” says Gruszkos.

It doesn’t take a huge gift to push a child over the limit; as little as $10 could do it. If the child has $1,995 in his name, $10 puts them over the limit at $2,005.

“Families of children with special needs must be very careful about accepting gifts from well-meaning friends and family,” says Gruszkos. “Families have literally lost thousands of dollars in aid and services because they didn’t know how to plan.”

MassMutual shares these tips to help friends and families of children with special needs.

1. Do not give or accept financial gifts in the name of a child with special needs.

2. Deposit gifts into a special needs trust that benefits the child.

3. Without knowing it, interest could increase the value of your child’s account. Carefully monitor your child’s assets and make sure they do not quietly grow to exceed $2,000.

4. Volunteer to help care for a child with special needs, so the parents or guardians can have some time to themselves. Caring full-time for children with special needs can be very intense, expensive and demanding.

5. Create a letter of intent that spells out exactly how you want your child with special needs to observe the holidays and with whom, if you pass away - what type of gifts he or she should or should not be given, and what kind of life he or she wants to lead. A free letter of intent is available at

Setting up a special needs trust is the first step in creating a life care plan for a child with special needs. This type of planning is crucial, yet highly complicated and difficult to do without help, because the issues are so complicated and the laws are so complex. The services of an attorney specializing in special needs planning are essential.

Special Care planners can provide additional information and help people assemble an integrated team of professionals experienced in the area of special needs.

For more information about MassMutual’s SpecialCare program, visit


Wedding smarts: Before the 'I do's' remember these important insurance to do's

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Congratulations, you're engaged. Once the excitement of sharing the news with your loved ones and Facebook friends dies down, there are several important issues to consider. This includes building your guest list, setting a budget, picking a venue, DJ versus band and other to do’s. However, there are also some vital details pertaining to insurance that many prospective newlyweds overlook. True, it's not the most exciting topic, but it is, nonetheless, something that should be considered before marriage.

Before you tie the knot, make sure you consider these options:

* Get your engagement ring appraised and insured.
Whether you’re traditionalists who believe an engagement ring should cost three months of the future husband’s salary or you’re a modern couple who opted to go Dutch and split the cost, an engagement ring is no small investment. Even if the ring is a family heirloom that didn’t cost anything, it’s a good idea to be protected against the unthinkable circumstance of losing your ring.

“Most renters or homeowners insurance policies offer riders for special or expensive items like engagement rings, costing on average $1 to $2 for every $100 to replace the ring,” says Doug Menges, chief claims officer for Mercury Insurance Group. “Show your insurance agent a receipt for the ring, as well as an appraisal, to assure you get sufficient coverage.”

* Compare your existing auto insurance providers.
Many couples don’t have the same carrier for auto insurance when they join together in holy matrimony, but keep in mind marriage can impact how much you pay for your premium.

“This is especially timely for me, because my daughter is getting married this summer,” says Menges. “I know that married couples tend to pay lower auto insurance premiums because, statistically, they’re safer drivers than single men and women. So, you can be sure I’ve already told her and my future son-in-law they should talk to their insurance agent, because they will most likely qualify for additional discounts that may lower their premium.”

Be sure to talk about accidents, outstanding tickets, coverage lapses and similar issues while you’re deciding if a joint policy is right for you. And don’t be afraid to reach out to a local insurance agent for advice on how to best proceed.

If you opt to combine policies, consider what’s most important to you when choosing a provider. Is it the cost of your policy or having a local agent with whom to build a relationship? What about insurance bundling options and the discount types offered? When you agree upon what you’re both seeking, you can choose to stay with one of your current providers or find a new company. Regardless of what you decide, however, it’s a good idea to shop around to see if you are getting the most for your money.

* Create and merge itemized household inventories.
Whether you cohabitate with your beloved before or after taking the marriage plunge, an important insurance lesson is to keep a detailed record of everything you own. Mashable lists several apps that will assist with the inventory process. This inventory keeps track of the belongings you’ve accumulated over the years and helps your homeowners or renters insurance provider determine the proper amount of coverage you’ll need if you fall victim to a burglary, fire, natural disaster or other loss requiring a claim to be filed.

When you move in together, be sure to combine your respective inventories into one master list, and remember to add all of the gifts you receive at your engagement party, bridal shower and the wedding.

* Relax.
Your wedding day is hopefully one of the best days of your life. Don’t get lost in the planning process because the most important detail is the person who’ll be standing next to you. Take a deep breath, relax and remember to enjoy every second on your journey to a shared future.

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