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How special needs care has changed across one lifetime

Just a few decades ago, the care and respect that those with special needs received was far different. As recently as the 1960s, those with differing mental or physical abilities were all but incarcerated in bleak facilities receiving less-than-satisfactory care. Today, while there are still opportunities for improvements, the quality of the life and care has greatly improved.

A movement championed by Jean Vanier to bring dignity to those with special needs along with love and respect. Vanier, who according to The Economist recently died at the age of 90, was the founder of the L'Arche communities for people with disabilities in France.

Changing models of care

As a young man, he recognized the need to reform care after visiting a mental institution located in a small village north of Paris in the mid-1960s. He was horrified by what he saw there, not only because of the deplorable conditions of the facility but also the treatment of individuals who resided there.

Noting that these people needed love more than anyone else, Vanier went on to purchase a humble home in the village and invite two residents from the local mental institution to live with him in the house. He invited them to become part of his family, and they said yes. From this gesture grew a network of home-based communities for those with special needs. This network eventually grew to include more than 150 communities in 38 different countries.

Special needs planning: What caregivers need to know

Vanier's work in the special needs community and his contributions over the course of his lifetime shed light on the importance of proper special needs planning. Those who are caring for a child, near-adult or adult who has special needs should consider the following:

  • Depending on the individual's abilities or skills, planning for a lifetime of care and assistance must be a part of an estate plan. 
  • Individuals with special needs can still inherit wealth and assets after death. Last summer, we wrote about some of the tools available that take into account benefit eligibility thresholds.
  • Selecting a trusted individual or individuals to manage your loved ones affairs is also exceedingly important. 

If someone that you love and care for has special needs or differing abilities, it's a good idea to discuss your concerns and hopes for the future with an experienced attorney. Getting the right tools in place offers protections and a sense of peace.

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