For Michael Beloff, a financial planner with Barnum Financial Group in Shelton, Conn., The American College’s recent unrolling of a new Chartered Special Needs Consultant (ChSNC) designation, designed to help advisors manage the emotional and financial complexities of planning for families that have children with special needs, is a huge step forward for the financial planning industry.
Financial planning for families that have children with special needs has been Beloff’s specialty since he became a licenced advisor in 2002, and one that he has worked in, for the most part, in an isolated manner, since there are not a whole lot of advisors who work with special-needs families.
His interest in advising such families arose from his personal situation: “I have a son, now aged 15, who at the time was diagnosed with autism,” Beloff says. “I looked at my own situation and realized that if I had to do something for my son on a long-term basis, so would many other families out there.”
But at the time, the special-needs planning area was a totally new field, and Beloff had to start from scratch, doing the necessary research and putting together outreach programs and workshops. He was fortunate enough, he says, to join MetLife, which even at the time, had a national center for special needs planning, “and they certified 200 advisors internally to get up to speed with planning for the intricacies of this marketplace.”
But overall, “there were and still are only a few folk like myself who endeavor to figure this area out on their own, so any certification that can be done, either internally like MetLife does or externally like the new American College accreditation, and that can help advisors with the intricacies of planning in this area is a good thing, because there are so many pitfalls that advisors can run into.”
These complexities start when a child with special needs reaches school age since most services are provided by the local school districts, Beloff says. Advisors must be able to help families figure out what these are, help them understand what their children are eligible for and also help them figure out what other benefits their children can use. All of this, he says, varies from state to state, so it’s also important for an advisor to work with an attorney “who knows the rules of where you live” and can make sure that everything follows through.