With baby boomers fast approaching their 60s, the media’s attention has shifted from parenting and surviving the empty-nest syndrome to how to have a successful retirement. Advice for boomers is everywhere.

Demographics play a starring role in the story line. People are making different choices about quitting the workforce, living longer and staying healthier than the generations that came before them. A recent MetLife Mature Market Institute study shows that many are working well past the traditional retirement age of 65, sometimes for enjoyment but more often in pursuit of income security. In fact, 37% of 66- to 70- year-olds are still working or looking for work.

Tucked away in all the demographics is an often overlooked story. But it is a critical tale, both for the families affected and the financial services professionals that provide services to them. Many children with special needs, who once faced shortened lives, today are living into early adulthood and beyond. Their parents–once distraught about outliving their children–now face the challenge of ensuring stable care and financial resources long after they themselves are gone.

It isn’t a small problem. Today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 32.5 million Americans are disabled severely enough to need assistance, and approximately 4 million children between the ages of 6 and 14 have a disability.

Advances in medicine and the development of early interventions have lengthened the lives of many children with special needs. For example, those born with Down syndrome can expect to live about twice as long as their counterparts born in the 1980s. The pressure on parents, many of whom may face their own health problems in their elderly years, is immense, particularly for those children with special needs who will never be able to live independently.

All of these factors point to the growing demand for financial planning that can address families and their children or dependents with special needs.

There is no simple fix. Federal laws (not to mention additional laws that vary from state to state) and regulations make creating special needs trusts complicated. Each family is unique, based on the special needs of the child, the family structure, its assets, and much more. But the insurance and financial services professional is well positioned to play a critical role in bringing it all together for the family.

Think of yourself as a quarterback, who first carefully builds the team and then provides the direction necessary to reach the family’s goal. The team you put together will include:

? A financial planning resource that stays up to date on the laws and regulations that affect children with special needs.

? An attorney experienced in crafting the type of special needs trust that will protect the child’s eligibility for federal assistance;

? An advocacy organization that deals with the nuances of the family’s special need. This assistance can be invaluable for the family, helping it to tap into current research and support groups; and

? A service coordinator who can step in and organize care when parents are no longer able to.

As the quarterback, you remain the primary link to the family. This requires continually checking in with the family to make sure external factors have not developed that may impact their estate planning. It also requires getting to know the extended family so that you can provide guidance that will protect the integrity of the plan. No one wants to see an inadvertent inheritance, left with the best of intentions by a well-meaning relative, make the child ineligible for the long-term federal assistance that is crucial to their lifestyle.

There is no denying that serving the growing need for financial planning for families with children or dependents with special needs is a complex task. But it is also a personally rewarding one for the financial services professional.

Theodore Roosevelt once said the greatest prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work that is worth doing. For families and their children with special needs, the role of the financial services professional is certainly worth doing.