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Wednesday, June 22, 2022

What Can ABLE Account Money Be Spent On?


ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) accounts offer people with disabilities a great, tax-free way to accumulate money without jeopardizing their qualifications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and other means-tested programs. Withdrawals are tax-free as long as the money is used for “qualified disability expenses.”  The arguments for starting and maintaining such funds are overwhelming, not least of which is the wide variety of things on which the money can be spent.

To build 529A ABLE accounts, beneficiaries (and other contributors) can put up to $16,000 total into these funds each year.
Read more . . .


Monday, June 6, 2022

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.
Read more . . .


Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Estate Administration Basics

What should you do when a loved one dies? How and when does the estate get administered?

Administration is defined as Court-supervised distribution of an estate during probate. Also used to describe distribution process for a trust. Probate means proving the will, but it can also be used to indicate a court process to handle a deceased person’s estate.

When a loved one dies, there is often confusion and panic about what legal and financial steps should be taken by survivors.  There may be little information about the finances of the decedent, and spouses or children are left to sort through what may seem like a never-ending mass of papers.


Read more . . .


Friday, February 7, 2020

Could Your Bad Estate Plan End Up as The Plot of a Book?

My favorite hobby is reading and I try to combine my love of reading with my profession of estate planning.  The plots of some of my favorite books are about dysfunctional family relationships complicated by really bad estate planning!

Here are three books I recommend where siblings were torn apart by their parents’ bad estate planning choices.

The Nest

by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

The four siblings of the Plumb family - Leo, Melody, Beatrice, and Jack- are the beneficiaries of a trust fund they call “The Nest” left to them by their father. The terms of the trust provide that the trust assets will be distributed equally to the four siblings when the youngest, Melody, reaches age 40.

When the book begins, Melody is fast-approaching her 40th birthday, and each of the siblings is anxiously awaiting the distribution that could solve their self-inflicted life problems.


Read more . . .


Wednesday, December 4, 2019

How to Have A Family Conversation with Aging Parents at the Holiday

Happy Holidays! 

 Is It Time to Have a Conversation About Long-term Care with an Aging Parent?

Like many families, mine is scattered all over the United States.  Work and other commitments make it difficult to visit distant loved ones more than a few times a year.  When visiting, it is hard to gauge the health and safety of family members because they are often not going about their normal daily activities. 
A few years ago, while visiting my dad in Oregon, I noticed that there was something not quite right with him.  He was repeating himself and telling stories about his history that I was pretty sure were not true.

Read more . . .


Thursday, June 22, 2017

How Safe is My Mother from Financial Exploitation?


 

Jennifer’s 80-year-old mother seemed to be running low on funds every month.  By the end of the month, she had no money for groceries.  Jennifer had helped her mother with a budget, so she thought her mother had plenty of money to make it through each month.  When she asked her mother to allow her to look at her bank statements, though, Jennifer discovered a series of automatic debits to several companies she did not recognize.  It turns out, her mother had signed up for monthly book delivery clubs, as well as recurring magazine subscriptions for magazines Jennifer knew her mother did not read.
Read more . . .


Monday, April 22, 2013

Protecting Seniors from Being Taken Advantage Of

Unfortunately, there have been an increase in reports of senior citizens being taken advantage of. There are various ways seniors are being taken advantage of, but one strikes particular interest with our firm; the deceptive and unfair methods of some Financial Advisors.

Being an Elder Care and Disability Law Firm, we are constantly in contact and working closely with Financial Advisors. They are a vital resource not only for us, but for our clients. We are confident in the Financial Advisors that we work with, but it is a shame that not many out there are honoring their commitment and efforts to help families.

In the link provided below there are a list of 7 guidelines that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggest to seniors to follow to avoid choosing a bad financial advisor or product

Click Here

It is important to be aware and alert to suspicious activity. Senior abuse is a crime and will not go untolerated. If you suspect any senior abuse being taken place please contact the Department of Health and Services.

For more resources and information on senior abuse you may also check out this website : http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/


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


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The Elrod-Hill Law Firm,LLC assists clients with Estate Planning, Veterans Benefits, Medicaid, Elder Care Law, Probate, Special Needs Planning and Pet Trusts in the North Atlanta area including the counties of Dekalb, Gwinnett and Fulton.



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