Although Bart Stevens is not officially an educator, his life’s work involves a unique form of teaching,
Stevens, of Scottsdale, is recognized as a pioneer in the field of Special Needs Planning, meaning he provides guidance to families of children with mental disabilities or syndromes such as autism or Down syndrome.
He guides families through financial, legal, and insurance issues they need to know for their child’s future to be secure. He helps parents set-up special trusts and make arrangements for their loved ones in case they die before their child does.
The people he helps range from infants to 60-year-olds. Many of the parents have two or more children with special needs.
“I could not tell you of another person in the United States doing what I’m doing,” said Stevens, who has lectured extensively throughout the country.
Stevens has now written a new book, “The ABC’s of Special Needs Planning Made Easy,” that gives parents simple steps to set-up a special needs trust for their child. The book explains how to write a letter of intent about a child’s care so there are no unanswered questions in case of a parent’s sudden death.
He describes himself as “kind of like a catalyst, or a host of the whole planning process.”
Stevens, 55, founded his Phoenix business in 1993. Before that, he spent 20 years in financial planning and sold insurance. He finds this new line of work endlessly gratifying.
“Not that I was ashamed of selling any of those products…I wanted to have a different rapport with the families,” he said. “I still work with the families, lawyers, the financial advisors. I bring them in and work with them hand-in-hand.”
The Banahan family of Phoenix hired Stevens three years ago to help plan the future of 12-year-old Julia, a seventh-grader at Madison Meadows Middle School, who has Down syndrome.
“He knows how to take a sensitive topic and make sense of it,” said Julia’s father, Jim Banahan.
Stevens has been talking about his ABC’s book for the past month, “running seven days a week, at 120 miles an hour” to spread the word about Special Needs Planning.
He’s happy to report that fewer families are in denial about their children with special needs. His own field is also growing as more people are becoming aware of Special Needs Planning.
“Moms and dads need to look at their children as objectively as possible and make decisions that are in the best interest of their child,” Steven said.
“People with special needs are productive citizens. They’re no different that you and I, they just happen to have a disability or a syndrome.”
Before I get into this review of Bart Steven’s book, “The ABC’s of Special Needs Planning Made Easy©,” I must state upfront that Bart is a friend of mine, and that he has been a keynote speaker and breakout session presenter at SCAS conferences. I also happen to be one of several people who wrote enthusiastic endorsements that appear at the front of the book. (One, by the way, was written by Cheryl Bauerle, who chairs the SCAS Board of Directors). Finally, this newsletter has carried a series of articles that Bart wrote about Special Needs Planning.
Whew! If you’re beginning to think that SCAS is sold on Bart, you’re absolutely correct. But it’s not just because he is a highly personable and helpful professional. We appreciate Bart because of his expertise in Special Needs Planning, a critically important process that all families of individuals with autism need to undertake — while they still can.
Few parents want to think about the fact that they won’t always be around to take care of their loved one, but, statistically speaking, individuals with autism will in all likelihood outlive their parents. Planning for the future is imperative. In “The ABC’s of Special Needs Planning Made Easy©,” Bart succeeds in walking the family member through the future planning process in a caring and easy-to-understand way.
Beginning with the “Letter of Intent”
Bart’s book goes through the process step-by-step. His “10 Simple Planning Steps” begin with the “Letter of Intent,” in which the family members write down their hopes, dreams, and vision for the loved one. The letter also addresses day-to-day concerns and needs, such as diet, likes and dislikes, and favorite activities. If the son or daughter has limited language, the Letter of Intent can address what different symbols, actions or words mean to him or her — in other words, the things only a mother, father or other close person would know and could impart to others.
Bart walks through the pros and cons of the various types of Special Needs Trusts in language that is easy to understand. He clearly defines the six various types of trusts, from Irrevocable Living Special Needs Trusts to Pooled Trusts. Next, Bart moves into a discussion of Social Security benefits. His frequently asked questions section is excellent.
Bart provides great resources too. He writes about finding qualified advisors and types of insurance to consider purchasing. Throughout the book, Bart gives helpful hints and stories to illustrate his points. The stories bring home the importance of planning for the future.
I’ve seen several of Bart’s presentations over the years. He’s an energetic presenter with a full grasp of his subject. Now, he has taken that same energy and knowledge and put it into “The ABC’s of Special Needs Planning Made Easy©.” Planning for the day when you are no longer will be able to care for your child with autism is not fun or an easy thing to do. But this book can provide you with strategies to help ensure that your loved one is cared for according to your wishes and desires. It’s going on my “must read” list for parents.