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by Kate Moss, TSBVI Outreach

 Every parent's concern: WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO MY CHILD IF I AM NOT ABLE TO CARE FOR HIM? The challenge of planning for a child's future beyond the life of the parents can seem overwhelming. Even when the family has other children or family who are willing to take over the responsibility from the parents, problems may arise for two reasons:

1. They are not clear about the wishes of the parents and do not have the historical knowledge about the child to feel comfortable with the decisions they are required to make.

2. Laws and services change over time and the plans made by the parents may need to be revised for the child to receive maximum benefits from the system.

Preparing for the point in time when you, the parents, are unable to make critical decisions for your dependent child is a very complicated undertaking. You draw up a Will. You may also work with an accountant to see that a Trust is set up which will not have a negative impact on the services your child is entitled to receive from the government. A Will or a Trust will not necessarily ensure that your wishes for your child are always considered. A Letter of Intent is a way to have your voice be heard beyond the time when you are no longer with your child.

A Letter of Intent is a document that you prepare to help the guardians, trustees and the courts interpret your hopes and desires for your child. It is not a formal "legal" document, but the courts will look to it for guidance in understanding your child and your wishes. The courts tend to favor the family's wishes as long as they are not illegal or immoral.

Because you are the one constant in your child's life, you can share information with professionals and others that can improve the quality of their work with your child. It will help them understand what works for your child and what does not work. It will also save you and your child's future guardians time. Think of how often you have to repeat the same information to various service providers. Providing them with a single document that contained most of the information they needed would be very helpful.

It is important to note that writing a Letter of Intent forces you to discuss (often for the first time) the many concerns you have about your child's disabilities. This can be an emotional if not a painful experience. Be aware of this and plan to work on the letter at a point in time when you are not feeling overwhelmed by your life. You may also find that you need to work on small portions of the letter over time or have some help in gathering portions of the document.

This Letter of Intent is not a traditional letter. You do not write it and forget it. It is a living document that should be updated and added to on a regular basis throughout your life. You may want to set aside an anniversary date to review your letter every year, and make needed changes. At other times events will require the letter to be changed immediately, such as noting a bad reaction to a specific medication. When you need to make changes you may only need to rewrite that portion of the letter. Placing the information on a computer for easy updates is one way to keep the document current. If you hand write or type your letter, organize it so that information which may need to be frequently updated is on a separate page from the information (such as family history, social security number, etc.) that won't ever change. You may also separate information that can easily be shared (educational history, personal preferences, etc.) from more sensitive information (cash income, life insurance, etc.)

Two books that you might find helpful in the development of this letter are Planning for the Future by L. Mark Russell, Anrnold E. Grant, Suzanne M. Joseph, and Richard W. Fee and The Life Planning Workbook by L. Mark Russell and Arnold E. Grant. The first book provides detailed information on topics such as The Life Plan, Letter of Intent, Advocacy and Guardianship, Planning for Your Child’s Financial Future, Basic Estate Planning, Living Trusts, Living Wills and Durable Power of Attorney, Reducing Estate Tax and other topics. The Life Planning Workbook provides forms, charts, and other information to help you collect information to share with others. However, the information that follows should be adequate to get you started.

Whether you write it out in long hand, use a typewriter, or use a computer be sure to sign it and date it. Place it with your other important papers and let someone who can be trusted know of its existence.

Don't worry if you are not a skilled writer. This is not an English paper! This is a way to let people know what you want for your child, and what you are particularly concerned about for his/her future.

What follows are the general guidelines for writing a Letter of Intent. This is taken from an article published by the organization, Estate Planning for The Disabled.


Fee, Richard. The life planning approach, New Ways, Fall 1990, pps. 18 -19.

Guidelines for Preparing a Letter of Intent, Estate Planning for the Disabled, Publication L5503.

Russell, L. Mark. Writing your letter of intent, New Ways, Fall 1990, pps. 20 25.

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