“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Mark Twain wrote that in a letter, and while it referenced the writing life, the same analogy could be applied to financial strategies for persons with special needs.
What’s the difference?
More than ten years ago, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual) recognized that, in regards to the community of persons with special needs, the business-as-usual way of creating financial strategies wasn’t enough. Individuals and families who lived with special needs needed more.
They needed strategies that worked in conjunction with the many laws, regulations, programs, benefits, and services related to special needs. They needed financial professionals who understood that, and who could help them create a financial strategy that was beyond “almost right.”
So MassMutual developed the SpecialCareSM Program1 and reached out to financial professionals who wanted to serve persons with special needs. MassMutual worked with The American College of Financial Services2 to create an exclusive certificate course to teach their financial advisors the necessary skills to develop financial strategies for people with disabilities and other special needs. Between 2004 and 2013, more than 500 professionals associated with MassMutual earned the title of Special Care Planner3.
Still, it isn’t enough.
More More trained financial professionals are needed to serve this community. are needed to serve this community.
Over the years, the number of persons with special needs has grown. In 2005, about 1 in 150 children were identified with autism spectrum disorder; in 2010, that number increased to about 1 in 684. And between 2005 and 2010, the number of persons with diabetes grew by 4.5 million5. Overall, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 2005 and 2010, the number of persons with a disability increased by 2.2 million6.
Additionally, persons with special needs are living longer – and more productive – lives. For example, in 1960, a child with Down syndrome may have lived to be about ten years old7. Today the average life expectancy is about 60 years old8. To better serve this community, MassMutual took some big steps forward.
A professional designation for the industry
“In the last few years, we’ve worked with MassMutual to create a program of study and the industry-recognized Chartered Special Needs Consultant [ChSNC] designation,” says Adam Beck, Esq., Director of the American College MassMutual Center for Special Needs at The American College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. He is also an Assistant Professor of Health Insurance at the college. “And in January of this year, we opened the American College MassMutual Center for Special Needs.”
The center is one of six at the college and is made possible through an endowment from MassMutual. “The center and the opportunity to earn the ChSNC designation are open to financial professionals throughout the industry, not just those associated with MassMutual,” Beck continued. “By doing this, MassMutual has opened the market place for the good of the consumer. As more professionals earn the designation, more consumers will become familiar with it. They’ll know who to turn to when they need help.”
“Those caring for a person with a disability or other special needs now have more options for providing the best care to their loved one, while managing the needs of other family members,” said Mike Fanning, Executive Vice President, U.S. Insurance Group, MassMutual. “MassMutual is proud to partner with The American College to not only elevate financial professionals’ understanding of special needs planning, but to equip them to help advocate for the economic security of individuals
The ChSNC difference
Those working as financial professionals who want to earn the ChSNC designation must first meet experience and/or education requirements (earned certain other professional designations, earned a master’s degree in financial planning or an equivalent area of study, or worked at least five years in the industry and passed a validation exam). If they qualify, they must then successfully complete three courses of study: Introduction to Disability, Legal and Financial Issues for Families with Special Needs, and Financial Planning for Families with Special Needs. After earning the designation, ongoing education is required to retain it; 15 continuing education units must be earned each year.
“After completing these studies,” explains Beck, “a Chartered Special Needs Consultant will have a greater understanding of specific disabilities and a better appreciation of what it means to live with special needs. For instance, what it’s like to go to school, the impact of being bullied, relationships with siblings, parents, strangers, and others. They’ll also know more than the average planner about irrevocable life insurance trusts, special needs trusts, wills, powers of attorney, guardianships, social services and government benefits, and social, legal, educational, and financial issues that relate to a person with special needs.”
Among other things, courses also cover tax issues that apply to special needs such as tax rules, credits, deductions medical expenses, child and dependent care, and adoption. Role playing helps students build skills to improve their interaction with clients, their families, and their team of professionals (accountants, doctors, attorneys, social services reps, etc.). They’ll be more sensitive to clients’ preferences regarding how, when, and where to meet, receive information, involve other family members, and create, review, and make changes to financial strategies. And they’ll learn how to plan for a child who’ll transition into adulthood.
The American College MassMutual Center for Special Needs
“The center serves as a think tank, publishes research regarding special needs, and is a resource for graduates,” explained Beck. “We’ll help graduates keep up with their education and link them to experts in the fields of law and taxation. We’ll also reach out to the special needs community directly or through organizations such as ARC or Special Olympics to build public awareness and advocacy of legislative activities and financial concerns related to special needs. Within the next year or so, we plan to have a mobile app available so graduates will have access to center resources, get answers for themselves or their clients, such as whether or not a particular regulation applies in their state, and connect with other graduates and share information.” The center will continue to evolve to serve graduates and, ultimately, their clients.
Almost right? Or right?
Twain was spot on about the almost right and right word. But do professionals who’ve earned the ChSNC designation always get it right? With a constantly changing environment, both in the life and health of clients and in the legal and financial world that affects them; no one can guarantee a perfect financial strategy. However, with the training they’ve received, the networks they’ve built, the information they have access to, and the attention they give to understanding your specific needs, they definitely have a big advantage over financial professionals without the ChSNC designation. And you certainly have the advantage when you use one to help you create your financial strategy.
1 The SpecialCareSM program, developed by MassMutual, is an innovative outreach initiative that provides access to information, specialists, and financial products and services that can help improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and other special needs and their families and caregivers.
3 The Special Care Planner, a title used by MassMutual financial professionals, who have received advanced training and information in estate and tax planning concepts, special needs trusts, government programs, and the emotional dynamics of working with persons with disabilities and other special needs and their families. The certificate program was offered by The American College in Bryn Mawr, PA, exclusively for MassMutual financial professionals. Additionally, a designation of Chartered Special Needs Consultant (ChSNC), which evolved from the certificate program, is now offered through the American College for financial professionals. MassMutual financial professionals who have completed the certificate program, or received the ChSNC designation can use the Special Care Planner title.
6 A news release issued by the U. S. Census Bureau on July 25, 2012 stated: “The report, Americans with Disabilities: 2010, presents estimates of disability status and type and is the first such report with analysis since the Census Bureau published statistics in a similar report about the 2005 population of people with disabilities. According to the report, the total number of people with a disability increased by 2.2 million over the period, but the percentage remained statistically unchanged. Both the number and percentage with a severe disability rose, however. Likewise, the number and percentage needing assistance also both increased.”
* The Special Care Planner, a title used by MassMutual financial professionals, who have received advanced training and information in estate and tax planning concepts, special needs trusts, government programs, and the emotional dynamics of working with people with disabilities and other special needs and their families. The certificate program was offered by The American College in Bryn Mawr, PA, exclusively for MassMutual financial professionals. Additionally, a designation of Chartered Special Needs Consultant (ChSNC), which evolved from the certificate program, is now offered through the American College for financial professionals. MassMutual financial professionals who have completed the certificate program, or received the ChSNC designation can use the Special Care Planner title.
A Special Care Planner through MassMutual’s SpecialCareSM program can assist parents in drafting Letters of Intent and can help make a difference in the quality of life for an individual with special needs, their caregiver and other family members. Through SpecialCare you will learn valuable financial strategies, identify financial strategy solutions, access vital information, and meet certified specialists who will work with you and your professional advisors – your banker, accountant or financial planner, lawyer, social workers and health care providers – to review your financial picture and offer options to fit the needs of each situation. For more details, visit MassMutual’s website at http://www.MassMutual.com/specialcare, or call 1-(800)-272-2216.
Founded in 1851, MassMutual is a leading mutual “http://www.massmutual.com” life insurance company that is run for the benefit of its members and participating policyholders. The company has a long history of “http://www.massmutual.com/aboutmassmutual/financialinfo/strength” financial strength and strong performance, and although dividends are not guaranteed, MassMutual has paid dividends to eligible participating policyholders consistently since the 1860s. With “http://www.massmutual.com/productssolutions/individualsfamilies/producttype/lifeinsurance/wholelife” whole life insurance as its foundation, MassMutual provides products to help meet the financial needs of clients, such as “http://www.massmutual.com/productssolutions/individualsfamilies/producttype/lifeinsurance” life insurance, “http://www.massmutual.com productssolutions/individualsfamilies/producttype/disabilityincome” disability income insurance, “http://www. massmutual.com/productssolutions/individualsfamilies/producttype/longtermcare” long term care insurance, “http://www.massmutual.com/retire/plansponsors” retirement/401(k) plan services, and “http://www.massmutual.com/productssolutions/individualsfamilies/producttype/annuities” annuities. In addition, the company’s strong and growing network of financial professionals helps clients make good financial decisions for the long-term. MassMutual Financial Group is a marketing name for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual) and its affiliated companies and sales representatives. MassMutual is headquartered in Springfield, Massachusetts and its major affiliates include: Babson Capital Management LLC; Baring Asset Management Limited; Cornerstone Real Estate Advisers LLC; The First Mercantile Trust Company; MassMutual International LLC; MML Investors Services, LLC, Member “http://www.finra.org/” FINRA and “http://www.sipc.org/” SIPC; OppenheimerFunds, Inc.; and The MassMutual Trust Company, FSB.
The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. MassMutual, its employees and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel. Individuals involved in the estate planning process should work with an estate planning team, including their own personal legal or tax counsel.