"Find someone who is trustworthy, knows your child and will comply with your letter of intent," said Lili Vasileff, a certified financial planner and president of financial planning firm Divorce and Money Matters and parent of a special-needs child. Vasileff, who specializes in both divorce and special-needs planning, set up a special-needs trust for her disabled daughter and named her son and a family friend as co-trustees.
Of course, caring for a disabled child can be a big financial drain, and families that are stretched thin may wonder whether they can even afford to plan, said Nauheimer of Northern Trust.
"Special-needs trusts are not the exclusive domain of wealthy individuals, although there is that perception," she explained. "I'd like to dispel that notion, because there are ways to structure and fund a trust so that there are sufficient resources."
Life insurance policies can be used to fund the trusts, although some advisors urge caution when it comes to relying on "second-to-die" policies as a funding mechanism. Such policies typically cover two people, usually a married couple, and provide benefits to their heirs only after both die.