Special Needs Planning
Proudly serving families of loved ones with special needs, we provide expert guidance for legal, and life care planning and most importantly, we stand by these families through on-going challenges.
Utilize various legal vehicles to cultivate an estate plan which incorporates the needs of loved ones with special needs.
Special Needs Trust
A special needs trust (“SNT”) is a legal document designed to benefit an individual who has a disability, while allowing the individual to remain qualified for governmental assistance programs available for his or her care. A SNT can be used for supplemental and extra care over and above what the government provides. A SNT is meant to not only maintain benefits eligibility, but also to bring enjoyment and new, positive experiences to the beneficiary.
For example, if an individual is receiving means-tested public benefits such as Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income, an outright bequest of an inheritance or gift may disqualify the individual from continuing to receive these benefits. The individual would therefore have to spend down their inheritance or funds before qualifying (or re-qualifying) for such programs. If the inheritance or gift is placed in a SNT, the individual will continue to receive benefits from governmental assistance programs; however, the funds in the SNT are available to better the individual’s life and to provide for services or equipment not covered by governmental programs.
ABLE accounts are tax-advantaged savings accounts for individuals who have become blind or disabled prior to age 26 and are either able to provide written certification from a licensed physician or are receiving or eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
An ABLE account can be established by the beneficiary, or the beneficiary’s parent, legal guardian, or attorney-in-fact under a Power of Attorney.
Only one ABLE Act account can be established per individual but there is no limitation on the number of individuals who can contribute to that one account. Total contributions for the benefit of a given ABLE Act beneficiary cannot exceed $15,000 in a single year, the maximum federal gift tax exclusion ($15,000 in 2020).
The funds in the account can be used for disability-related expenses that assist the beneficiary in increasing and/or maintaining his or her health, independence or quality of life. Disbursement can be issued by the beneficiary, or a person with signing authority on the account, if any, via checks and/or debit card. In the event, the beneficiary receives a cash disbursement, the disbursement should be spent during the same calendar month as it was disbursed to avoid disqualification. Upon the death of the beneficiary, Medicaid shall be entitled to reimbursement for benefits paid to the beneficiary since the ABLE account was established.
Alternatives to Guardianship
It is essential to establish legal authority in order to continue assisting the individuals with special needs in making financial and medical decisions when they reach the age of majority (usually 18). However, depending on the situation, there are less restrictive alternatives other than applying for guardianship.
-A health care proxy enables the agent to act on behalf of the individual with special needs who, nonetheless, does not relinquish their ability to make decisions.
-A financial or education power of attorney similarly allows access to records, -participation in discussions and signing authority, while not interfering with the individual’s own decision-making rights.
Life Care Planning
The goal of a life care plan is to ensure that services and support will continue for the life the individuals with special needs when the caregivers are no longer able to help. A comprehensive and honest assessment is required to address many challenges, including but not limited to the following:
- Assess the supports that will be required, and their cost, given the individual’s disabilities and desired lifestyle;
- Establish circle of support for on-going care and financial well-being of the individuals with special needs
- Set up a financial plan to provide funds for individuals with special needs without causing the individuals to lost important public benefits;
- Make funds are well managed
- Make sure family members, friends and advocates are not over-burdened with caring for the individuals with special needs.
Letter of Intent
A Letter of Intent is an evolving document which outlines information and supports that are essential to the family members, friends and advocates who will provide and oversight for the individuals with special needs.