Special Siblings

by • March 5, 2014 • 2014, Big Kids, Expert Advice, March 2014, Teens and Pre-Teens

When entrusting the care of a special needs child to a brother or sister, the future of each should be considered

I looked at the lovely young woman in my conference room across the table from my firm’s fiduciary. She was a second generation patroness of our office: her father had died six years prior to the meeting, and her mother had passed three years after the dad. I listened as my assistant asked a third question of the thirty-something blonde concerning the administration of the special needs trust her parents had left for their son, the young woman’s brother.

“Are there any problems you are having as trustee?” she asked the client. The trustee turned to look directly at me without answering the question.

“I remember you really pushed my parents not to name me as trustee,” she gave me a half-hearted smile, “but Mom was positive that I was the best person for the job.” She shook her head. “Mom was wrong.”

She then asked if we had seen a movie with Laura Linney as a sister of a man who was mentally ill, confined to an institution with only the sister as a contact with the outside world.

“Every time the brother hiccupped, he had to call his sister. She had no life. Every other whacky person in the movie, even the ones who made the audience laugh out loud from their goofiness, they all ended up with lives that included other people. But not Laura Linney. She finished the film alone. That is a summary of my life as my brother’s keeper.”

Most advisors will direct parents of special needs children to seek out the help of accountants, attorneys and financial advisors who can help the parents prepare a protected legacy for the troubled child. Each of these professionals, along with a professional fiduciary, is essential for patterning an appropriate future for a special needs child. Unfortunately, parents do not often prepare the siblings of the special need child for the potential emotional stresses of dealing with a brother or sister who may be dependent on that sibling for the rest of his or her life.

Several of the counselors we have seen with clients who have family members with special needs have used their professional skills to teach the siblings how to manage their relationships with their affected loved ones. They advise clients to set boundaries for their lives as family members of a special needs person, to protect their own expectations if they are going to be able to have any kind of life.

Our young client is a strong person; but her pale color, gaunt lines, and exhausted expressions told of a lifetime of stress that had been compressed into the few short years following her mother’s death – a time of sacrificing her own hopes of happiness for the benefit of her disabled brother. She had one last sad comment.

“In the last scene Laura Linney had in the movie, she was saying to the guy she had had crush on for three years that maybe it was not a good time for them to be trying to start their relationship,” she told us. “They parted, and I just kept asking myself, ‘When will it be a good time?’”

Responsible parents consult with experts to prepare their special needs children for the time when their parents are no longer in their lives. It is important that they remember that this is only the first step: they also need to prepare their other children for the potential stress they will experience in their lives with the siblings whose needs may only continue to increase as they go longer into life. M


Hunsberger Law is a full-service estate and business planning legal firm serving families all over Orange County. Connect with Don Hunsberger by calling (714) 663-8000 or visiting 

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