Friday 8 January 2021


I talk to lots of different people who have a role in supporting families of children with disabilities. This week, I had an interesting chat with Bruce Maier, a financial advisor and managing partner of Iron Birch Advisors, a division of Ameriprise Financial Services. Bruce is based in New York City and leads his team's practice serving special needs families. Bruce teaches and mentors both other financial advisors as well as families in all aspects of financial planning for a safe and secure future. If families would like the benefit of Bruce's experience and advice, he generously offered his contact details for that purpose: 

Bruce Maier, MBA, ChSNC®
Financial Advisor Managing Partner



A financial advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc.

O: 212.759.2013  M: 201.407.6631

CA Insurance License #OI43753

For future planning advice and information in Canada and certain cities in the USA, contact the PLAN Institute. PLAN is a family led organization dedicated to helping parents answer the question, "Who will care for my child after I die?" PLAN also offers Canadians a Disability Planning Helpline: 


Call the helpline anytime from anywhere in Canada and one of our family experts will answer your questions about the Disability Tax Credit, the Registered Disability Savings Plan, trusts & estate planning, advocacy approaches, government benefit programs, social network building and more. *NEW – We are now offering support on how to stay socially connected during COVID-19: 1-844-311-7526

Now, here's my conversation with Bruce. 

Q: As a financial advisor, what do you think is the greatest challenge for families seeking to ensure a safe and secure future for their loved one with a disability? 
A: The greatest challenge for a family is the pressure of planning for two generations while also having to think of themselves and their other family members. With so much on their minds, the need to focus on a plan for everyone, INCLUDING a child with disabilities becomes challenging and overwhelming. It is up to the advisor to ensure that once a plan is achieved and annually reviewed, a family can check off the box, take away the personal pressure and then be able to focus entirely on that loved one with a disability. In other words, creating a plan is the greatest stress reliever. 

Q: In our conversation, you described to me how you coach other financial advisors to broach potentially sensitive topics with families. What are some of your key lessons for other professionals when speaking with families about future planning? 
A: The key point I discuss with all advisors is not to be afraid to ask whether the family is supporting someone with a disability for fear the response is "Yes" and you do not have the expertise to advise on matters of future planning for someone who may require a range of ongoing supports. I suggest to advisors that they ask all families, "Is there someone in your family who may not be financially independent throughout his or her life?" Clients will be more open to answering that question versus a more closed question about disability. I suggest that financial advisors ask this question early, as part of the initial fact-finding stage. If the answer is "Yes", there are professionals who can advise on these aspects of future planning. I advise other financial advisors on matters of disability future planning and I am not alone in doing so. 

Q: You do a lot of work with siblings of individuals with disabilities. What are some of the special concerns of siblings in future planning discussions?
A: Siblings are sometimes viewed as the 'lost generation'. In some cases the full responsibility to ensure the care and wellbeing of their brother or sister with a disability is shouldered alone. It is important that siblings have someone to talk to outside of their immediate family, which I stress in my seminars. I feel strongly that siblings should be involved in the planning process and also be assured that their concerns are being addressed when making decisions for life after the death of parents. To the parents, I stress the importance of having early, explicit conversations with their able-bodied children to ensure that plans in place for future care and support roles are understood and  agreed. 

Q: Do you have any advice for families when speaking to a financial planner if the advisor him/herself does not bring up special considerations related to disability? Are there questions families should ask? 
A: Absolutely. Families should ask financial planners if they or any members in their practice have had any experience working with other families that have similar situations. It would be the same question one would an attorney or doctor. I would also ask the planner what actions he or she could take when I (the parent) passes away. What is (or what could be) their role at the time of death and what are their resources? 

Q: We talked a lot about the key role of language in having potentially difficult discussions about an unknowable future for a child with disabilities. How do you help families overcome the fear that they may have in "planning for the worst" when they have high hopes for their child's future? 
A: Most importantly, I try not to 'sugar-coat' the situation, but I do stress the flexibility of arrangements that can be made over time in the child's life during the future planning process. Too many times families get stressed about the word "irrevocable" which results in procrastination in moving the planning process forward. Nothing has to be "irrevocable" if planned properly and in response to evolving circumstances. 

Q: You have been helping families if children with disabilities plan their financial future for twelve years. Is there something you wish all families knew when planning for the future? 
A: No family should feel alone in this process. Apart from experienced professionals, families themselves are a great resource. The key takeaway I would suggest is the importance of having a will. NOT having a will for anyone is bad enough, but it is catastrophic in the case of families raising a child with disabilities. 

Perhaps our Covid "down time" is an opportunity to review future planning arrangements for ourselves and ALL our children - including those with disabilities. 

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