The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which was created by Congress in 2014, allows people with disabilities and their families to save up to $100,000 in accounts for the benefit of a disabled person. The funds can be saved without jeopardizing the individual’s eligibility for Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and other government benefits. ABLE accounts may be opened by anyone with a disability as long as the disability began before the person turned 26.
Starting in 2018, the amount of money that can be deposited in an ABLE account per year without jeopardizing public benefits will rise from $14,000 to $15,000. The amount that can be deposited in an ABLE account is tied to the federal gift tax exclusion, which has also risen to $15,000.
Other changes to the program in 2018 include the following:
- Traditional 529 plans can now be rolled into ABLE accounts. This helps parents utilize funds that were accumulated in traditional college savings plans before learning their child had a disability.
- Individuals with disabilities who are working may be able to save up to the federal poverty level. Rather than savings being capped at $15,000 per year, in some cases the new law will allow people with disabilities to save their earnings beyond that threshold up to the federal poverty level to potentially accumulate as much as $27,060 per year in savings.
- A note of caution: there are no real “safeguards” built into the legislation to help people monitor contributions that go over $15,000. There have been delays implementing this new part of the law, as financial professionals fear that mistakes are easy to make, and benefits could inadvertently be jeopardized.
Setting up an ABLE account is often a solid way to save money toward future expenses for an individual with disabilities. As with most federal or state programs, there are intricacies in the rules that should be understood prior to establishing an account. I encourage you to seek the assistance of a qualified Marietta Special Needs Lawyer to ensure that you understand the process before tying up your funds.
If you would like to speak to an attorney about the creation of an ABLE Account or to create an ABLE account in conjunction with a Special Needs Trust for your disabled loved one, please contact our Marietta special needs attorneys at 770-425-6060 to schedule a consultation.
When a Marietta special needs lawyer is creating a special needs plan for a loved one with disabilities, it’s the hope that all family members are in agreement and ideally on the same page. But, even if everyone is working together, there can be issues when the parents are divorced. Often, there are separate estates, separate finances, and other factors to consider for both parents when creating trusts and other care plans for children with special needs. By facing the following challenges now, divorced parents have the best chance of creating solid plans for the future:
Understand that you two may have distinct financial and familial obligations. Remarriage and new families may make less money available for special needs planning. One parent may rely on the other to financially back any plans without fully understanding whether the other parent can do what is expected. Since divorced parents’ finances are separate, one parent cannot obligate the other to invest in or pay for something. Also, considering that lump sum inheritances can disqualify your child with special needs from receiving SSI and Medicaid, it’s best to make sure neither of you will accidentally undermine the other’s planning due to unintended consequences of your estate.
Work out any differences in opinion or desired outcomes. Parents may not want the same the thing for their adult child with disabilities, even though they both want the best. This can result in fights and disputes, which can turn ugly and contentious if not resolved. Hiring a Marietta lawyer to handle your child’s special needs plan means having a knowledgeable neutral party working in the best interest of your child, no matter what happens between the two of you.
Decide if one parent should take the lead. If a child with disabilities primarily lives with one parent who is more involved in the child’s ongoing care, then it may be in the best interest of the child for the more involved parent to take the lead and do the lion’s share of the planning. If one parent takes on more responsibility, that parent should strive to keep the other in the loop, while the other pledges support, both emotional and financial.
Make sure all families know what’s going on. Your child may have family members on both sides that don’t communicate with each other or know what’s planned. More importantly, they may have siblings, half-siblings, and step-siblings who may be very concerned about your plans, and especially with any lack of planning. Just because you’ve asked one or all of your children to take over for you when you’re gone, doesn’t mean they can just slip into your place, even if they have the time and means to do so. All parties who would be interested should be kept in the loop to avoid any arguments or fights over your child’s plan when you’re gone.
Special needs planning in Georgia can be just as unique as your own family. Contact our Marietta special needs attorney at 770-425-6060 when you’re ready to start planning. We have the experience and knowledge to work with challenges like divorced and blended families to create the right plan for your child and your family.
When a child with special needs turns 18, parents must begin to think about sensitive issues such as long-term care planning and how to legally stay in control. Adult guardianship is one such vehicle that allows parents to have legal and financial authority over their children when their parental rights would otherwise be terminated.
Hiring a Marietta Guardianship Lawyer to petition to become a guardian is a lengthy legal process, but it may be appealing to parents still caring for young adults with disabilities who aren’t ready to be independent. Before beginning a petition for legal guardianship in Georgia, consider the following first:
Your child loses a great deal of freedom.
If you gain guardianship, your child loses the freedoms he or she would have as an adult. The child will lose the right to handle his or her own finances, make healthcare decisions, choose residency, or make any other decision that the court has given the guardian power to decide. For young adults that are high-functioning and could possibly lead an independent life, this loss of freedom is a very real concern that families must consider.
You have a great deal of responsibility.
Your responsibility may be an extension of the things you did for your child when he or she was young. As a guardian, you have a responsibility to care for whatever the court has entrusted to you, and failing to do so could bring legal consequences. If you’re responsible for your adult child’s finances and you mishandle them or use his or her SSI fraudulently, you may not only lose guardianship but be liable for civil damages or be criminally charged.
Your rights could be limited.
Unlike guardianship of a minor child, guardians only gain authority over the things the courts give them authority over, and nothing the petitioner doesn’t ask for. Therefore, if a parent only has medical guardianship, for example, and not financial guardianship, that parent cannot make financial decisions on the child’s behalf.
Likewise, your guardianship doesn’t allow you to keep your child from engaging in adult behaviors you would prefer they didn’t. They’re free to do whatever they’re otherwise entitled by law, like drinking, smoking, dating, or having sex.
Your guardianship isn’t transferable and ends with you.
Guardianship either ends when you die or when the court ends it. You can’t pass on guardianship of your child with special needs to a spouse or to a surviving adult child. They can petition the court and go through the same guardianship process – and expense. The court grants guardianship to someone both by how much the ward needs a guardian and by how fit the petitioner is. Anyone who wants to be guardian after you must go through the same process that you did.
Are there alternatives?
There are alternatives to guardianship. One is to create a special needs trust to handle financial affairs. The trustee will use the trust to pay for the child’s expenses. If your child is high-functioning and can sign legal documents, he or she can also name the parent as Healthcare Agent and Power of Attorney so the parent can help the child make decisions without the child losing their rights. Many of these alternatives depend on the physical and mental needs of the child and must be evaluated carefully by your legal and medical team.
If you would like guidance on how to pursue a guardianship or a guardianship alternative for your young adult with special needs, contact our Marietta GA Guardianship lawyers at 770-425-6060 to schedule a consultation.
By: Steve Worrall, Marietta GA special needs attorney
As a Marietta special needs attorney, I’m often asked, “What exactly is a Special Needs Trust?”
For starters, a special needs trust is a legal entity created to hold assets of a person with a mental or physical disability. The trust names a trustee whose job is to manage the assets and distribute them according to the provisions of the trust. There are specific limitations on the way assets can be distributed so that they do not disqualify the beneficiary from eligibility for government programs.
There are two primary types of special needs trusts. They are:
Self Settled Special Needs Trusts
In a self-settled special needs trust the assets in the trust belong to the beneficiary. For example, if the person becomes disabled due to the negligence of a doctor or car accident, it is possible that the beneficiary received a settlement as a result of litigation. In this case, a self-settled special needs trust would be created for the beneficiary to receive and hold the settlement funds in order to preserve government benefits.
Third Party Special Needs Trusts
A third party special needs trust is created by a third party with assets that belong to the third party. For example, the parents of a child born with Down syndrome or autism might create a special needs trust for their child as a part of their overall estate plan. In the case of a third party special needs trust, family members may make lifetime gifts to the child.
Distributions for Special Needs Trusts
In order to preserve government benefits, it is important to direct the trustee not to pay for services that are provided by a government agency. If done correctly, the assets in the special needs trust will not be counted as a resource. The trust must authorize distributions only for special or supplemental needs. Some examples of this might include dental care, specialized therapy, and services of a caregiver. Improper distributions of a special needs trust can cause a loss of government services, so it is critical that the trust is set up and then managed properly.
Who Should Create a Special Needs Trust?
Not all Georgia estate planning attorneys have the training, expertise or knowledge to create a special needs trust. You should consult with an attorney who is experienced in creating these trusts and who knows how to properly advise trustees.
The documentation that you create with your special needs planning lawyer in Marietta will be quite detailed and will take an incredible amount into consideration, but it will likely not cover every possible concern or wish you may have for your child’s future care. For that purpose, many parents work with their lawyer to create a Letter of Intent.
The Letter of Intent is along the lines of a personal letter, rather than being a more formal legal document. It is used to supplement the special needs plan in order to provide additional information.
Uses for the Letter of Intent
- Parents often use it to address wishes that they have which don’t really fall under the purview of legal requirements.
- This document is also useful for addressing information about your child that is subject to change. While various other special needs planning documents tend to be more static, the Letter of Intent can be changed out as the information in it needs to be updated.
- Finally, a Letter of Intent is used to discuss topics that are just too lengthy to include in the special needs trust.
The letter is typically addressed to the people who will be caring for your child once you are unable to fulfill that role. When the time comes, your attorney will share the Letter of Intent with the child’s caregivers, as well as with the trustee. They can use the letter to help interpret your desires and to help follow through on the wishes you have for your child.
Where to Get the Letter
Your special needs attorney in Marietta can help you draw up your Letter of Intent as a supplemental piece of your special needs trust. You may also wish to download a template for organizing your thoughts. As with any online resource, be sure to have your attorney review the document and offer advice and recommendations. At Georgia Estate Plan: Worrall Law LLC, we’re happy to help. Call us at 770-425-6060 and let’s schedule a Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session at no charge to those readers of this blog post.
For families with special needs individuals, ensuring the care for their loved ones once the caretakers are gone is of the utmost priority. The loss of specialized care and Medicaid or SSI benefits is a very real danger if proper special needs planning is not put in place, which is why Atlanta special needs lawyers often share the benefits of special needs planning involving Special Needs Trusts.
What is a Special Needs Trust?
Since even a small amount of cash assets can disqualify special needs individuals from the care and assistance they need, it is important to not let these assets pass directly to them upon your passing. A Special Needs Trust is the best way to ensure your special needs loved one keeps their care and assistance while also benefiting from the legacy you leave behind. Atlanta special needs lawyers design these Trusts in such a way that the assets in it do not belong to your special needs beneficiary; instead, they are owned by the Trust and managed by a Trustee of your choosing who will direct the assets to be used for the benefit of your special needs loved one. Medicaid and SSI will ignore the assets in the Special Needs Trust as they are not directly owned by your special needs loved one.
How may the assets in a Special Needs Trust be spent?
Assets in a Special Needs Trust can be spent in a number of ways which benefit the special needs individual. These include education, recreation, vacations, home improvement, and certain out-of-pocket medical expenses. These expenses are considered “non-countable” by Medicaid and SSI since they do not count as the special needs individual’s personal assets. Atlanta special needs attorneys caution that assets in a Special Needs Trust may not be given directly to the special needs individual, as this will oftentimes disqualify them from receiving state assistance.
What if I don’t have a Trustee or I’m not leaving behind a large sum of money?
In cases where a suitable Trustee cannot be chosen or a small or moderate sum of money is being left behind, Atlanta special needs lawyers often direct their clients towards Pooled Trusts. Pooled Trusts are typically run by non-profits which manage the assets for special needs individuals. The non-profit will assign a Trustee who is responsible for managing the assets on behalf of the special needs individual; the benefit of such an arrangement is that the Trustee and the non-profit are both heavily involved in the special needs community and understand the care and compassion needed to look after your special needs loved one. While there are fees and different types of services attached to Pooled Trusts, they are often a good alternative to an individual Special Needs Trust in certain situations.
If you have any questions about how a Special Needs Trust can benefit you and your loved ones, please contact us at 770.425.6060 to schedule a consultation.