Caring for those in Need

Considerations for Successor Caregiving

Who will continue caring after my loved one with special needs when I am no longer able to? This is a critical question many caregivers caring for a loved one with special needs will need to anticipate and plan for. The role of a successor caregiver is vital. Planning and considerations can be put into place in advance to help make the transition to the successor caregiver successful.

BY Kelly Piacenti | April 2023 | Category: Autism Awareness

Considerations for Successor Caregiving

Person-Centered Life Care Planning with Integrated Legal and Financial Planning

Following a person-centered life care planning process keeps the person with special needs as the primary focus and develops a life care plan that helps enable that person to obtain the best quality of life possible. A life care plan is a coordinated and integrated program of social, medical, financial, and legal strategies for people with disabilities and their families. A life care plan continually changes to adapt to the needs of the individual throughout his or her life and is integrated with the broader family planning. A life care plan should integrate estate, legal and financial planning with government benefits, assuring the vision and quality of life you have in mind for your loved one with special needs. 

Next Phase of Successor Caregiver

You may have established a life care plan, but additional and important consideration will also be your vision for successor caregivers. Caregiving can be stressful, often taking a toll emotionally as well as economically. Many successor caregivers will have to balance the needs of their family as well as the responsibilities of the individual with special needs. It is imperative for successor caregivers to have all the available information and resources in place to assist them. In addition to administrating funds out of a special needs trust or ABLE account for the individual with special needs you may want to consider additional trusts.

Additional trusts as discussed in the August 2019 article “Special Needs Estate Planning – Seven Overlooked Challenges”1 of the Journal of Financial Service Professionals include a caregiver trust, legacy trust and spendthrift trust which can provide additional assistance and flexibility for the successor caregiver. Please visit

  • A caregiver trust can be set up to alleviate some of the financial aspects of providing care by the caregiver and cover some items a special needs trust might not be able to.
  • A legacy trust is an irrevocable trust which allows you to remove assets from your primary estate into the trust, which acts like a secondary estate.
  • A spendthrift trust allows for a beneficiary to receive funds incrementally (this would not necessarily be a good option for an individual on resource tested government benefits). 

Creating a Letter of Intent

Creating a letter of intent document is also a good way to capture your desires and concerns, as well as caregiving instructions to future caregivers, guardians, trustees, and advocates of the individual with special needs. Although not a legally binding document, the letter of intent will allow future caregivers to more quickly learn how to deliver the very best care. MassMutual’s SpecialCare program can provide a template of the letter of intent for you to customize for your unique situation. 

Family Meetings and Communication

Having conversations and meetings regularly can help to identify needs, plans and openness of potential successor caregivers. Keep in mind that dynamics may change over time as caregivers age and siblings grow up, therefore it is important to continue a fluid conversation with all individuals involved. Make sure everyone is aware there is a plan in place, and they know where to find the information (legal documents, letter of intent, etc.). 

Remember the goal is to achieve and sustain the best quality of life for your loved one with special needs and ensure they have the assistance they need in every aspect of their life.  

SpecialCare is a program created by MassMutual that provides access to information, specialists and financial solutions to people with disabilities and their families. For more information about Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual) and its SpecialCare program, please visit 

The Special Care Planner title is used by MassMutual financial professionals who have received advanced training and information in estate and tax planning concepts, special needs trusts, government programs, and the emotional dynamics of working with people with disabilities and other special needs and their families. 

The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. MassMutual, its subsidiaries, employees, and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel. Individuals involved in the estate planning process should work with an estate planning team, including their own personal legal or tax counsel.  

About the Author:

Kelly Piacenti is Head of MassMutual’s SpecialCare program with nearly 500 Special Care Planners. She oversees partnerships with some the largest national special needs non-profit organizations and serves on the National Board of Directors for United Cerebral Palsy.  She also serves on the Advisory Board for The Academy of Special Needs Planners, as well as The American College Center for Special Needs Planning.  Kelly often lectures at industry conferences and is published and quoted in numerous industry publications for the special needs community. She was the mother of a child with special needs for 19 years and is a mentor and resource for families facing similar challenges. 

Read the article here.