Financial Planning: What You Need to Know from the Experts

Financial Planning: What You Need to Know from the Experts

Merrill Edge, which started in 2010, has announced some new programs that will help parents and caregivers of individuals with special needs.  Specially trained financial advisors have the tools to help families with special needs that do not have a great amount of investable assets.

“The goal is to deliver high-quality advice and guidance and give them support they need to make their goals,” says Alok Prasad, Head of Merrill Edge.  As a division of Merrill Lynch, Merrill Edge is a part of Bank of America that delivers investment solutions to clients between $50,000 and $250,000 of investable assets.  Whether it’s for retirement or planning for education and other milestones, financial planning can help you each step of the way.

“Special needs families are often overwhelmed with taking care of a special needs child, and they put planning on the back burner,” says Ron Cappuccio, a Certified Special Needs Advisor (CSNA) for Merrill Edge.  “The first step is to start a conversation and give us a call.  We walk you through the process.  We try to focus on what is pertinent to special needs families, like lifestyle planning, going through the different stages of life.”

Merrill Edge is filling a gap that needs to be filled.  “Over the last few years, we have had a number of inquiries from our clients in terms of helping them prepare for their children’s lives, some of them with special needs,” says Prasad.  “We are certified and we understand the needs of special needs families and are trained on that.  It’s not just always about planning for the special needs, but we want to look at the broader goals families have.  It is important that you balance all these goals.”

What might financial planning entail?  “If we’re setting up assets for a special needs child, there’s increased focus on asset management.  Another big item is cash flow and liability management, making sure there’s enough cash flow to meet the expenses of the special needs child,” says Cappuccio.  “And obviously family protection, making sure that everything is documented properly, beneficiaries are set up properly, maybe they need a trust for the benefit of a special needs child. 

Planning is often pushed aside for too long, which is a mistake for special needs families.  Cappuccio points out that “with special needs families, where you have the expenses of taking care of a special needs child, it’s a big stress point for families.  Some have fewer assets to spread around.”  Many families feel like they don’t have enough to start planning, but Prasad says it’s “imperative to start as soon as possible.”

Families can use the Merrill Edge Special Needs calculator as a starting point.  “The special needs calculator is designed for families to get a sense of the requirements and high level of what may be needed to support an individual.  It helps them understand what it would entail,” says Prasad.  “It’s not a prescriptive output, and it has to be tailored to the specific family.” 

Use the calculator as your starting off point, then make a call to meet with an advisor who will walk you through the process.  Plan to meet with your financial advisor twice a year, although how often you meet really depends on each situation.  In your meetings, you’ll likely discuss both short-term and long-term goals for your plan.

“Short-term goals could vary between every financial situation, and no two special needs families are alike.  Short-term goals usually are the cash flow liability management and making sure there’s adequate cash to meet the expenses of the child,” says Cappuccio.  “Long-term is essentially make sure there are going to be assets down the road for that special needs child’s expenses.  That’s why there’s a strong focus on portfolio management and addressing the focus on risk management.” 

The main headline is to get started as soon as possible.  “Every day, every week, every month counts,” urges Prasad.  “There are many Bank of America banking centers where people can be connected to one of our advisors who can help them.  It’s very accessible and easy.  We hope that families that have this need will take advantage of it.”  Cappuccio agrees and says, “The most important part is to give us a call and get that conversation started.”

Families interested in learning more about this program can contact a Certified Special Needs Financial Solutions Advisor at 866.706.8321 or go to merrilledge.com for help.

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Written by: Cara Batema See other articles by Cara Batema
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