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President and founder, Haystack Financial Planning

After encountering six client families in an eight-month period with disabled or special-needs family members, Matt Ricks took notice. He further reflected on his own circle of family and friends and realized that people with special needs were everywhere he looked. Inspired, he founded Haystack Financial Planning to focus specifically on this population. “The community is much larger than you think — plus add in their caregivers,” he said.

According to the CDC, one in four U.S. adults live with a disability, most commonly mobility- or cognition-related. Their planning needs can be complex. “A big part is navigating the federal, state and local programs. They all have different qualifications, whether asset-based or income-based,” Ricks said. Typical concerns include finding special-needs independent living options and setting up guardianships and trusts for when the caregivers are no longer available.

Sensitivity is even more important than numbers, he said. “It’s the emotions and empathy that we give our clients that are most valuable. Some of these families have been through quite a bit and advisers need to be attuned to them,” Ricks said. “Our industry needs more education and awareness, and more financial advisers in this area.”

— Deborah Nason