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Special Needs

A letter of intent or a letter of direction is your message to the future. The letter of intent is a document that you will share with trustees and future guardians. It is not legally binding, but provides a guide for your child's caregivers or the courts on how you would like your child to live after you're gone.

Typically, a letter of intent includes three major sections. The first gives a complete medical history of your child, including hospital visits, doctors, allergies, and medications – anything related to your child's health. The second section offers practical advice, including housing and services needed, names of advocacy organizations, and daily care requirements (even down to listing your child's hairdresser, clothing sizes, favorite foods and colors, or behaviors that anger your child). The third part states your hopes and dreams. It might name favorite teachers who share your life vision, as well as people who may work with your child who have different views. List everything you can think of that might affect your child's future. As much as possible, involve your child in writing a letter of intent.

An attorney in Chicago who specializes in disabilities law, wrote an 18-page letter of intent for her daughter with a developmental disability, in which she gives the trustee permission to "be a little frivolous" with the trust. If necessary, she writes, she wants the trustee to hire a driver to take her daughter swimming, as well as offering perks to high-quality caregivers as incentives to continue their employment.

In general, she wants the money used to make her daughter's life better. She updates the letter every year to reflect her daughter's changing life, using her daughter's birthday as a reminder date.

Share you letter of intent with the person who will be responsible for your child and ask how he or she feels about it. If you doubt that this person will respect your wishes, you may want to choose another guardian. While the letter of intent may have nothing to do with the legal aspects of your estate, it is the one document that really speaks to your survivors about how you want your child to be treated.

If you would like a copy of the "Letter of Intent" template, please send an email to Scott Pettyjohn at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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