New Nonprofit Eases Estate-Planning Process for Parents of Children with Disabilities

February 01, 2022

Tom Sannicandro
Photo courtesy of Tom Sannicandro, PhD'16

After a career that spanned business, academia and public service, Tom Sannicandro, PhD’16, is applying his experience as an attorney and disability rights advocate to a new endeavor. In mid-2021, Sannicandro founded, a nonprofit website that simplifies the estate-planning process for parents who have children with disabilities.

“If you have a kid with special needs, you can’t just do a will like anybody else. Instead, typically, you need to put together a special needs trust, and then put the wills into that trust,” says Sannicandro, who was a Nancy Lurie Marks Fellow while at Heller. He goes on to explain that adults with disabilities who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) become ineligible if their bank account balance exceeds $2,000. Putting inheritance assets into the trust allows the recipient to continue to receive SSI and still have assets in excess of $2,000.

Sannicandro has an adult son with Down syndrome, and keenly understands the challenges that parents face when contemplating the best way to provide for their children in the long term. Unfortunately, the specialized estate-planning process is often expensive for these families — costing up to $5,000 in legal fees alone.

“That price tag excludes parents who are low income or even middle income who still have assets to leave to their children,” he says. “But if the family does nothing, it essentially disinherits the child and leaves them with no assets.”

Sannicandro found that legal services websites almost never include specialized estate-planning services for families with children with disabilities, and those that do exist are often extremely complicated to decipher.

Seeing an opportunity, he decided to develop a website that would simplify and automate the steps for these families while charging a fraction of the going rate. He conducts a brief phone or video consultation with parents, talks them through the process and then reviews the customized paperwork generated by the website to ensure it suits his clients’ needs.

“I wanted to do something when I retired that was meaningful,” Sannicandro explains. “From my work at Heller and as an advocate for people with disabilities, I want to be on the forefront for how we empower people with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Estate planning can be very challenging for families, even emotional, especially if their child really depends on them for everything. So it’s difficult but also very rewarding to help them navigate this experience.”