In June, the Sibling Leadership Network held its seventh national conference in St. Paul, Minnesota. The SLN is an organization that supports siblings of people with disabilities in advocating for their brothers and sisters with disabilities “across the lifespan” as well as providing information and support.
The Colorado Chapter of the SLN, called Sibling Tree, had a strong contingency at the conference. Sibling Tree has a wide variety of programs and activities for Colorado sibs of all ages.
The sibling relationship
Siblings have the longest relationships of any members of nuclear families and for siblings with disabilities of all kinds, their siblings could play any of several potential roles:
- Representative payee for Social Security funds
- Agent with financial power of attorney
- Agent with medical power of attorney
Empower sibs to take active roles
One of the themes of the SLN conference was to get siblings at the table when futures planning and decision making for the sibs with disabilities are happening. The younger they get involved, the sooner their opinions are heard, which can be beneficial to the sibs with disabilities, and the earlier they understand the kinds of legal, practical and financial matters the future might hold vis-à-vis their siblings’ needs.
From a practical standpoint, the sooner siblings become active participants in their sibs’ lives and understand their siblings’ diagnoses and medical needs, financial considerations, government benefit eligibility and other important considerations, the easier the potential transition to sibling-to-sibling support as their parents age.
Careful estate planning
At our law firm, we do a lot of estate planning for families with loved ones with disabilities. These estate plans as well as ongoing financial management must be carefully constructed to maximize government benefits to which disabled family members may be eligible. Making siblings aware of the kinds of planning done to protect their sibs’ economic wellbeing will make them comfortable and aware of these issues as they reach adulthood themselves. Adult siblings also should seek legal advice for estate planning that will at that generational level also protect their siblings.