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Monday, November 4, 2013

Benefits Available to Survivor's Of Military Veterans- DIC

Survivor’s Benefit – DIC

Mary’s husband was rated 100% service-connected for a cancer related to Agent Orange exposure.  After receiving Compensation for a number of years, Mary’s husband dies of the cancer.  Mary is 76, and is no longer able to care for herself in her home. She can no longer bathe or dress herself, and she needs someone to manage her medications.

What benefits are available to Mary?  What about other surviving spouses or dependent children of veterans?

There are two monetary benefits available to the surviving spouses or dependent children of veterans.   One is available to the surviving spouse of a wartime veteran, when the veteran’s death is not considered to be service-connected.  The other benefit is available when the death of the veteran is related to his service connected injury in some way.  This benefit is called Dependency and Indemnity Compensation or DIC.

DIC is a monthly benefit that is available to a surviving spouse or dependent child of certain deceased veterans.

When is this benefit available? 

First, the death had to have been under the following conditions:

  •  A military member died on active duty
  • Or, a veteran who died as a result of a service-connected injury or disease;
  • Or,   the veteran died as a result of a non-service connected injury or disease, but the veteran was receiving or entitled to receive Compensation for a service-connected disability that was rated totally disabling
  • For at least ten years immediately preceding death,
  • Or, since the veteran was released from active duty and he or she was receiving or entitled to receive Compensation for five years immediately preceding death,
  • Or for one year preceding death, if the veteran was a former prisoner of war.

A surviving spouse is eligible if she or he meets the requirements for marriage, and is not remarried.  Once the spouse remarries, she or he loses eligibility during the subsequent marriage.

Surviving children are eligible for DIC if they are unmarried, under the age of 18, or between 18 and 23 and attending school. 

A helpless child of the veteran is eligible if the child is incapable of self-support, and the child was disabled before the age of 18. 

Currently, the surviving spouse is eligible for a monthly payment of $1215.00 per month.  If the veteran was entitled to a total disability for at least 8 years prior to death, and the spouse was married to him/her the entire 8 years, the surviving spouse is eligible for an addition $258.00.

In this case, Mary may be eligible for an additional $301.00 if she is has trouble performing some of her activities of daily living and is in need of the assistance of another person on a regular basis to help her accomplish those activities of daily living.  Mary should file a claim for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) with the Department of Veterans Affairs on VA Form 21-534 or 21-534 EZ, and include a doctor’s statement and VA Form 21-2680 indicating that Mary is deficient in some of the activities of daily living. 


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

March is Social Work Month!

Featured Article by Thom Corrigan, MSW, CMC

Each March we are asked to celebrate Social Work month. For some, this means sending a note or an e-mail to a social worker we may know. For others, it may be treating a social work colleague to lunch or bringing them a plant or some flowers to show our appreciation for them.

But this year, I invite you all to celebrate what social workers do, in addition to who they are. Social workers possess many traits and skills. These include being trained to serve as advocates and brokers for our clients. Social workers have developed skills in the areas of empowerment, resourcefulness, problem solving and helping people with transition. They help people to learn new skills while at the same time, helping them to regain confidence, self-esteem, self-determination and resilience. Social workers do this in part by modeling, teaching, empowering, counseling and developing in a person the traits and characteristics that will lead to better outcomes and create a heightened sense of accomplishment and independence.

Each year, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) creates a theme as part of its celebration for social work. This year's theme is "Weaving Threads of Resilience and Advocacy: The Power of Social Work."   Lastly, did you know that Social Work is the only profession that has the word "WORK" in its name? I find that interesting-

Happy Social Work Month to all my professional peers and colleagues and thanks for all that you do to help people with their everyday needs and challenges!

Thom Corrigan, MSW, CMC
Certified Care Manager


Monday, February 11, 2013

Helpful News for Trustees and Beneficiaries for Special Needs Trusts

Last fall the Social Security Administration quietly released the text of changes to the Program Operations Manual System -- the POMS. Though described as "clarifications" by Social Security, they were actually far-reaching changes that would have driven up the cost of trust administration, complicated the lives of beneficiaries and provided no additional protection for anyone involved.

Lawyers, trustees and advocates raised objections, and thankfully Social Security listened. Last week another set of changes were announced and the news is entirely good for everyone.

First, a word about POMS. This not very well known set of rules has far-reaching effect. It is a manual of instructions for Social Security eligibility workers, explaining how to treat all manner of documents, transactions and information obtained in the course of eligibility applications and reviews. You can look at the POMS online, but you will quickly see that it is a complicated, detailed and tightly-written set of rules.

The POMS is not law. It is not even a set of regulations governing Social Security eligibility. It has no legal force, and so one might think it is not important. Actually, it is more important than the law, at least in day-to-day decision-making. It is the document Social Security eligibility workers look to when faced with any wrinkle, confusion or question.

The changes last fall addressed several sections of the POMS dealing with how to treat expenditures from special needs trusts. Some of the changes focused on just "self-settled" special needs trusts, others included expenditures by "third-party" special needs trusts and perhaps even payments by family members or others who try to help recipients of Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Among the changes posted last fall:

  • When family members paid for items for a trust beneficiary -- like medical supplies, clothing, transportation or pretty much anything else -- reimbursement from a trust would be treated as income to the beneficiary, even though nothing ever went through the beneficiary's hands or account. The same would have been true for trust payments to the family member's credit card.
  • Payments for caregiving could not be made to a family member unless the family member was certified in some way. (This change actually wouldn't have made much difference in Arizona, since a variation of this rule is already in place for Arizona Medicaid -- AHCCCS/ALTCS -- recipients.)
  • Travel expenditures for third persons to visit a trust beneficiary would have been prohibited in pretty much all circumstances.

What changed? Social Security initially removed the change governing travel, and then indicated that the others were under review. Reportedly the high-level reconsideration included senior staff and even out-going Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue (who had already submitted his resignation from that post, to be effective February 13, 2013). Commissioner Astrue wanted the reconsideration completed before the end of his tenure, so Social Security moved very quickly to make changes.

Last week one of the reviews got completed, and the reimbursement policy changed. Not only did it change -- it actually changed to make good sense. Now POMS section SI 01120.200 E.1.d, "Reimbursements to a third party," reads:

"Reimbursements made from the trust to a third party for funds expended on behalf of the trust beneficiary are not income.

"Existing income and resource rules apply to items a trust beneficiary receives from a third party. If a trust beneficiary receives a non-cash item (other than food or shelter), it is in-kind income if the item would not be a partially or totally excluded non-liquid resource if retained into the month after the month of receipt. If a trust beneficiary receives food or shelter, it is income in the form of in-kind support and maintenance (ISM)."

Similar changes have been made in another, related section, SI 01120.201 I.1.f.

What does it mean?

  •  It means that an arrangement used by trustees all over the country, though without any specific authorization, has now been formally blessed by Social Security.
  • It means that the trustees of special needs trusts can reimburse family members who buy clothing, bedding, diapers, supplements, medical devices, transportation services, furniture -- all manner of items -- without risking loss of benefits from Social Security.
  • It means that all of those things can be done without limiting or losing benefits from AHCCCS and ALTCS (Arizona's version of Medicaid). It means that a system that worked well, was responsible and cost-effective, is now available again to trustees, beneficiaries and family members.

Word is that the other changes are in the works for release this week. Here's hoping all the changes will be as thoughtful and responsive to practical realities.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Can A Special Needs Trust Pay for things such as Credit Card Bills or Security Deposits?

   Administering a "special needs" trust can be a challenge. The rules often seem vague, and they occasionally shift. What may seem like a simple question might actually involve layers of complexity. Sometimes expenditures might be permissible under the rules of, say, the Social Security Administration, but not acceptable to AHCCCS, the Arizona Medicaid agency -- or vice versa. Trustees work in an environment of many constantly-moving parts.

Take these two examples:

Example 1:  Being the trustee of a Self-Settled Special Needs Trust for a sister. Can you pay her credit card bills?

Maybe (don't you just love lawyers' answers?). Let's break the question down a little bit.

    First, identify the trust as "self-settled." That means the money once belonged to your sister (it might have been an inheritance, or a personal injury settlement, or her accumulated wealth before she became disabled). That also means the rules are somewhat more restrictive.

We will assume that the bills are for a credit card in her name alone. If the card belongs to someone else, the rules may be different. Not many special needs trust beneficiaries can qualify for a credit card; when they can, it can be a very useful way to get things paid for (as you will soon see).

The next question requires a look at the trust document itself. It might be that it prohibits payments like the one you would like to make. That would be uncommon, but not unheard of. We will assume that the trust does not expressly prohibit paying her credit card bills.

What benefits does your sister receive? Social Security Disability and Medicare: Not a problem.But if it is Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and AHCCCS (Medicaid) there could be a problem.

    Next, we need to know what was charged to the credit card. Was it food or shelter? If it was used for meals at restaurants, or grocery shopping, or for utility bills, you probably do not want to pay the credit card bill from the trust. If you do (and assuming the trust permits it) then you will face a reduction of any SSI she receives, and possible loss of AHCCCS benefits.

Were the credit card bills for clothes, medical supplies, gasoline for her vehicle, even car repairs? There is probably no problem with paying the credit card statement. Even home repairs should be OK in most cases (just not rent, mortgage, utilities, etc. -- and the rules might be different if anyone else lives with your sister).

As you can see, what started out as a simple question turns out to have a lot of complexity. You might want to talk with a lawyer about your sister could use the credit card. When it works, though, it can be quite beneficial.

Example 2: Can a special needs trust pay the security deposit on a new apartment?

What an interesting question. We think the answer is probably "yes."

Once again we need to look at the trust document itself. Was it funded with your own money (like a personal injury settlement), or was the trust set up by a relative or friend with their own money? Is there language prohibiting payment for anything related to your apartment?

Assuming no trust language prohibits the payment, we can turn to the effect such a payment would have on your benefits. Social Security Disability and Medicare? Once again, no problem. SSI and AHCCCS/Medicaid? Your benefits might be reduced, but the payment can probably be made.

The key question is whether a "security deposit" is "rent." Arguably, it is not, rather it is an advance payment for cleaning. A special needs trust, even a self-settled special needs trust ,can pay for cleaning. Social Security's rules treat payment of "rent" as what's called "In-Kind Support and Maintenance (ISM)." This payment, we think, should not be characterized as ISM.

If it is not ISM, then it should have no effect on your SSI or your AHCCCS benefits. If it does, it might simply reduce your SSI payment (by the amount of the deposit, but capped at about $250). So long as you still get SSI it should not have any effect on your AHCCCS benefits.

Are these rules unnecessarily complicated? Yes. Does it sometimes end up costing more in legal fees to figure out what to do than it would to just pay the bills? Yes. Welcome to the complex world of Special Needs Trust Administration. Would it be possible to write simplified rules that allowed limited use of special needs trust funds while saving a bundle on administrative expenses? Yes, but please don't hold your breath while waiting for them.

 


Friday, January 11, 2013

New Scholarships in Georgia allowing Special Needs Children to attend Private schools with better care are changing lives!

http://www.daily-tribune.com/view/full_story/8961920/article-The-Georgia-Special-Needs-Scholarship-Program-is-changing-lives


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The start to a new life for the Mentally Disabled

   It is a new strategy for Georgia, one of several states responding to mounting pressure from the Justice Department, which in recent years has threatened legal action against states accused of violating the civil rights of thousands of developmentally disabled people by needlessly segregating them in public hospitals, nursing homes and day programs.

   For a family with a loved one who is mentally disabled, one of the hardest decisions they will have to face is determining the proper care for their loved one. Until recently, many mentally disabled persons have been placed in hospitals to live for the rest of their lie. While they are under constant care, there are social elements that are missing when living in a hospitals. These social elements, such as sense of community, friendships, and acitivies like dancing, are essential for personal growth.

  The link below is a story that exemplifies the importance of providing better living options for those who need it most.

 

 

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/30/us/ending-segregation-of-the-mentally-disabled.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0


Monday, November 12, 2012

Seniors Beware: How Much Salt are you Eating?

      Just like with most things in life, salt is best in moderation. Salt has been around for thousands of years and has served multiple purposes from being a means to preserve meats to adding flavor to a dish. But did you know that too much salt can create health problems including high blood pressure and heart disease? It is not just the french fries or the potato chips that we have to watch out for, but items that are packadged and heavy card-based.  On National Eating Healthy Day, the American Heart Association developed a list of six items that we should be mindful of consuming because of their above average levels of sodium. Please click the link to find out what are the 'Salty Six'.

 

http://seniorjournal.com/NEWS/Nutrition-Vitamins/2012/20121107-Seniors_Take_Heed.htm


Monday, January 9, 2012

Happy 2012! Make Getting Your Affairs in Order Your Goal for the New Year

 

Each year, I make a list of goals that I want to accomplish for the year.  Some years, the goals have a theme – unfortunately, the theme is almost always the same:  lose weight, exercise more. . .

This year, I’m challenging you to make one of your New Year’s goals to get your estate planning affairs in order.  This is one goal that is easy to accomplish – I promise!

Here are 5 easy steps you can take to accomplish this goal.

1.         Get educated about estate planning.  Attend an estate planning workshop or two.  Estate planning attorneys like me are always giving seminars and workshops to educate people about estate planning.  Yes, these workshops help attorneys attract clients, but the goal of these workshops is really to educate people about the basics of estate planning so clients can have meaningful conversations and can make thoughtful decisions about their own estates. 

2.         Review your old documents.  Do you have a will or trust?  Advanced Directives or Healthcare Powers of Attorney and Living Wills?  Do you have a Durable Financial Power of Attorney?  How old are your documents?  If your wills name guardians for your children who are now 30 years old, your documents are definitely out of date.  Did you name an executor who is now dead or is your ex-wife named as your executor?  Probably time to revise your will. 

            What about your health care documents? If they were done in Georgia before 2007, you may want to update them to the Advance Health Care Directive that went into effect in 2007.  Who have you named to make healthcare decisions for you?  Is that person still the right person to make decisions for you?           

3.         Look at the ownership of all of your accounts.  How is your bank account titled?  Title indicates who owns the account.  Are you the sole owner or is it a joint account?  Who is the joint owner and is this someone who should be a joint owner of your account?  Here’s a link to a blog I wrote last year about the pros and cons of joint ownership of accounts:  http://bit.ly/xm8W5o

4.         Check the beneficiary designations of your accounts.  The beneficiary is the person who would receive the proceeds of the account at your death.  Is the beneficiary your estate?  If so, why did you make your estate the beneficiary?  Having your estate as the beneficiary pretty much ensures that your estate will have to be probated.  Is your beneficiary under the age of 18 or someone with special needs?  It may not be the best thing to give someone under the age of 18 a large inheritance.  Although the court will put protections in place for those under 18, those protections can be expensive and once the beneficiary has their 18th birthday, the money is all theirs – to spend however they wish. Yikes!

             If the beneficiary has special needs, a gift may mean they lose governmental benefits.

            Distributions from IRA’s and 401(k)’s have income tax consequences, so have you considered how your beneficiary designations will affect the tax liability of your beneficiaries?

5.         Make an appointment with an estate planning lawyer, a CPA and your financial advisor.  A good, comprehensive plan involves a group of professionals who can guide  and counsel you in making decisions about your estate. 

Will you accept thechallenge to make getting your New Years Goal getting your affairs in order?

Here's to a great new year!

 


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Minor Guardianships: Letters of Instruction In Case of the Unimaginable

Writing Instructions to Potential Guardians

 

If you have minor children, or children with disabilities, the thought of leaving them suddenly is unimaginable.  Parents know their children- their schedules, their health, their likes and dislikes- but keep most of that knowledge in their heads.  When my kids were growing up, I knew when they needed to be at soccer practice and church, who their doctor was and how to reach her, and how to tell when they were sick.  Other than abbreviations on my calendar and names in my database, there was no formal written schedule of activities or list of important contacts.

Most parents can’t imagine how someone would be able to step in and take care of their children.  It is difficult to comprehend that someone else would have to figure out your children’s complicated schedule, let alone how to raise your child with the values you want them to have.

One of the ways you can help someone who might have to take over for you is to create a letter of instruction for a potential guardian.  What should go in that letter?  Here are some suggestions:

1.  Healthcare Information

The letter should include a detailed guide to your child’s healthcare, including vaccination records, contact information for their physicians and dentists, information about any allergies or prescriptions.  Note which pharmacy you have used in the past, and any over-the-counter medications your child uses on a regular basis.

2.  Your child’s Preferred Activities and the Important People who help with those activities

Although your children’s schedules will change monthly and yearly, the letter could include information about the activities your child enjoys, contact information for coaches, scout leaders and church youth leaders.  You might include a sample of the weekly, monthly or yearly schedule you and your family currently follow.  If your child goes to a summer camp, include information about deadlines for registering for camp.

3.  How to find Important Papers

The letter should include instructions on where to find the child’s birth certificate and passport, and should include the child’s social security number and a copy of the social security card.

4.  Religious Philosophy

If you practice a religion, include instructions on your religious philosophy along with contact information for the church you attend.  Let the potential guardian know if you would like your child to continue to be involved in the religion you practice, or whether you would like your child to accompany the guardian to their religious activities.

5.  Educational Philosophy

Discuss your thoughts and hopes for your child’s education.  Do you want your child to go to public or private school?  What are your plans for secondary education for your child?

6.  Family Tree and Other Important People

List all of the important people in your child’s life – and include contact information for those people.  If you nominate a person who is not a family member, will they know who your family is and how to reach them?  Let the guardian know if it is important for your child to be able to spend time with grandparents, aunts and uncles, or other important people.   

7.   Things that Comfort

What does your child like to do when he or she is upset, unhappy or frightened?  Do they have a special toy or piece of clothing?  Do you read a certain book to them or play music?  Do they have any pets that they rely on for comfort?

8.  Food Likes and Dislikes

Maybe the guardian won’t want to fix macaroni and cheese every night, but they may wonder why your child won’t eat what they fix for dinner.  Let them know any food preferences – as well as quirky food habits.  Be sure to mention any food allergies your child has and any reactions they’ve had to foods in the past.

Of course, this list is just a suggestion for some basic points you might want to cover.  Remember that the information in the letter will need to be updated on a regular basis as your child grows and changes.  If the letter is never needed, you will have a great written record of your child’s life that you can give them when they are adults and don’t remember that they refused to eat anything but hot dogs and used to love to cuddle with Winnie the Pooh when they were sad!

 

 

 


Monday, October 24, 2011

Naming Guardians for Minor Children

 

 

Phew!  I’ve reached that point in life where I can relax – not much, but a little- because both of my children are adults and, for the most part, out of the nest.  Until just a couple of years ago, I broke out in a sweat every time I had to go out of town on business by myself.  Not only did I worry about whether my kids would get fed, get their homework done and make it to soccer practice on time, but I also worried about what would happen to them if I had an accident and didn’t make it home. 

If you have minor children, children under the age of 18, I’m sure you worry about that, too.  If you are not around, who will feed them, help them with their homework and get them to soccer practice?

Choosing someone to care for your children is difficult.  No one will care for and love your children the way you do, and, as far as I know, we can’t clone you.  However, if you don’t choose someone to raise your children if you’re not there, the probate court will have to make that choice and the court may not choose someone that you would like to raise your children. 

The only way to nominate a guardian in Georgia is in a will.  However, many people put off doing their estate plan because this choice is so difficult.  Here are a few tips for choosing guardians for your children.

First, make a list of everyone you would trust to take care of your children.  When making this list, don’t restrict yourself to the obvious choices.  Remember that if you choose no one, your children could end up in foster care.  If you had the choice of this person or foster care, would you choose this person?  If so, put them on the list. 

Most people limit their list to family members – parents and siblings- but think about your extended family.  Maybe your aunts, cousins, nieces or nephews would be good choices.  Try to think about whether their philosophy about raising children is similar to yours.

Second, would any of these people truly love your children?  Would they raise the children with the religious, social, and moral values that you would like?

Third, look at the personality.  Are they affectionate?  Good role models?

Fourth, be practical.  Would raising children hamper their lifestyle?  If a couple divorced, or one died, would you choose either one of them?

Fifth, look for someone who’s good, not necessarily perfect.  Remember, as we discussed above, you cannot be cloned.

Sixth, talk to everyone you are thinking of naming.  Make sure they are willing to serve, and explain what will be required of them.  Let them know that they should tell you now if they do not want to be nominated as a guardian of your children.

Finally, above all, make sure that you are the one that makes the choice – not the court.

In the next blog post, we’ll talk about writing letters of instruction for guardians.

 

 

 


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