Special Needs Planning, Pt. 3: Merrill Lynch Unveils Special Needs Calculator

How the calculator works for families: saving and investing enough for care

This is the third in a four-part special report on special needs planning for advisors and their clients. In part three below, an example of how the calculator can help a family.

Merrill Lynch has introduced a tool to help families structure the finances of loved ones with special needs can be used in many ways.

Modesto, Calif.-based Scott MacDonald, a certified special needs advisor from Merrill Lynch, offers one way the special needs calculator can help.

A client with an 8-year-old girl who had been disabled in an accident came to MacDonald for help. The woman was a single mother, and had no money and no settlement from the accident to help; her daughter was a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic, but with no mental impairment from the accident.

Scott MacDonald, Merrill Lynch advisor“Her mother in frustration came to us looking for some help on what she could do, because she had no money for her daughter,” remembers MacDonald (left). “She needed the calculator to figure out how much to save out of her income to provide for her daughter’s needs as an adult.”

The calculator assisted in figuring out the expenses for adaptive equipment for the house, such as a roll-in shower and wheelchair ramps, as well as an adapted vehicle for transport and a succession of high-tech wheelchairs as the girl grew.

Other expenses it figured in were the costs of college—the child was very bright—and the expense of physical therapy at the best facility for the kind of help she needed, which happened to be located in Poland—making travel an additional expense.

Using an early version of the calculator and other methods, MacDonald was able to assist the mother in projecting how much to save and to invest to meet all these expenses–despite the fact that most of the mother’s saving and investing years occurred in a down economy, including the dot-com bust. The girl now works as a physical therapist for other kids, he says, and cases such as that “keep us going.”

“We’re not just out there advising rich business owners,” he points out, “but making a difference for people who really need it, and keeping them off the public dole. They would be institutionalized … if not for proper planning.”

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