What is a Special Needs Trust?
Special needs text on a wooden cubes on a wooden background

What is a Special Needs Trust?

Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid are critical sources of support for those with disabilities, both in benefits and services.

To be eligible, a disabled person must satisfy restrictive income and resource limitations.

That’s why many families ask elder law and estate planning attorneys about the two types of special needs trusts.

Moberly Monitor’s recent article, “Things to know, things to do when considering a special needs trust,” explains that with planning and opening a special needs trust, family members can hold assets for the benefit of a family member, without risking critical benefits and services.

If properly thought out, families can continue to support their loved one with a disability long after they’ve passed away.

After meeting the needs of their disabled family member, the resources are kept for further distribution within the family. Distributions from a special needs trust can be made to help with living and health care needs.

To establish a special needs trust, meet with an attorney with experience in this area of law. They work with clients to set up individualized special needs trusts frequently.

Pooled trust organizations can provide another option, especially in serving lower to more moderate-income families, where assets may be less and yet still affect eligibility for vital governmental benefits and services.

Talk to an elder law attorney to discuss what public benefits are being received, how a special needs trust works and other tax and financial considerations. With your attorney’s counsel, you can make the best decision on whether a special needs trust is needed or if another option is better, based on your family’s circumstances.

Reference: Moberly Monitor (October 27, 2019) “Things to know, things to do when considering a special needs trust”

What are the Major Changes to Social Security in 2020?

Social Security supports millions of Americans, giving them vital benefits in retirement or if they are disabled. For many of those recipients, Social Security contributes most or all of their income.

Motley Fool’s recent article, “4 Must-Know Facts About Social Security for 2020,” says that to get as much as you can from Social Security, you need to understand how each year’s changes will impact you. With benefit checks, retirement age, maximum benefit calculations and Social Security payroll taxes, there’s quite a bit for people to monitor with Social Security in 2020. Let’s look at few big changes:

  1. Next year’s cost-of-living adjustment. Every year, Social Security gives those receiving benefits a cost-of-living increase in their monthly checks. The amount varies from year to year, based on inflation figures. The SSA recently announced that it would increase benefit checks by 1.6% at the start of 2020. This bump will impact seniors in different ways. The typical retired worker will see monthly benefits rise from $1,479 to $1,503. For couples receiving two benefit checks, the typical total will rise by $40 to $2,531 per month. If you’re receiving Social Security benefits based on a family member’s work history, you’ll also see increases. Widowed parents with two children will see $46 more per month ($2,934). Surviving spouses without eligible children will receive a $22 per month increase to $1,422, while the typical disabled worker will see checks go up $20 to $1,258 per month.
  2. Early retirees in 2020 will see a higher full retirement age. The SSA figures your benefits using a formula that anticipates that you’ll claim Social Security when you reach full retirement age. If you claim earlier, then you’ll receive less than if you had waited. However, for those turning 62 in 2020, full retirement age will be slightly higher than it was for those turning 62 in 2019. Those born in 1958 will have a full retirement age of 66 and eight months—two months older than it was for people who were born in 1957 and reached 62 in 2019. Thus, 2020’s 62-year-olds will take a 28.33% reduction in their monthly payment, compared to what they’d get at full retirement age. That’s a little more than the 27.5% reduction that applied to 2019’s 62-year-olds.
  3. High earners can anticipate a larger maximum Social Security benefit. If you retire in 2020 and qualify for the maximum benefit, you’ll see a bigger check than those who retired this year. If you work to full retirement age before collecting benefits, your maximum amount for Social Security benefits will be $3,011. That’s an increase of $150 from 2019.

However, not every increase will be that large, because receiving the maximum depends significantly on exactly when you elect to retire and take benefits. For those claiming Social Security at 62, the maximum monthly benefit will go up $56 to $2,265. Those retiring at 65 will see a $100 increase to $2,857 per month. However, for those retiring at age 70, the increase will be minimal, increasing only $20 to $3,790 per month. Even if you end up short of the absolute maximum, those earning higher incomes can generally expect to see a boost to what they’ll receive.

  1. High-income workers can plan on paying more in Social Security taxes. Payroll taxes are the main source of revenue for Social Security, and the maximum Social Security payroll tax is going up. In 2020, $4,800 more in earnings will be subject to payroll tax, maxing out at $137,700. Between the 6.2% employee portion and the matching 6.2% employers have to pay, a total of 12.4% of your earnings will be taken by federal government.

Those earning in excess of $137,700, will have their withholding increase by $297.60. Self-employed workers will see their maximum taxes rise by $595.20. However, most workers won’t see any change at all, because typical Americans earn far less than $137,700, and the same 6.2% rate will continue to apply on total earnings below that amount.

Reference: Motley Fool (October 27, 2019) “4 Must-Know Facts About Social Security for 2020”

What Can You Tell Me About a Special Needs Trust?

A special needs trust is a specific type of trust fund that’s created to help a beneficiary with special needs but not jeopardize their eligibility for programs, like Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Medicaid. KAKE’s recent article, “How a Special Needs Trust Works,” says that programs like SSDI and Medicaid can be vital supports for those dealing with disabilities or chronic illnesses.

These programs have income limits to ensure they’re serving those who need them the most. If you were to just give money to your beneficiary when you pass away, it could come in above this income limit.

A special needs trust works around this. That’s because the owner of the funds is technically the trust, not the beneficiary. You also name a trustee to be in charge of disbursing the funds in the trust. Therefore, while the beneficiary benefits from the trust, she doesn’t have control of its assets.

If you are creating a special needs trust for a beneficiary, you must do this before the beneficiary turns 65. And funds from the trust typically can’t be used to pay for food or shelter.

If a person could benefit from a special needs trust, but they themselves own the funds, you can create a first-party special needs trust in which you serve as both the beneficiary and the grantor. These can be complicated to draw up, and states have varying rules determining their validity. A first-party special needs trust has the money that belongs to its beneficiary.

With a third-party special needs trust, the trust holds funds that a beneficiary doesn’t directly own. These are generally used by grantors to allow the beneficiary to start getting money from the trust, even before their death. The funds never technically belong to the beneficiary, so they can’t be used for Medicaid payments. The trust can be used to save money for the beneficiary and future beneficiaries.

The third type of these trusts is the pooled special needs trust. Nonprofit organizations manage assets for a fee, and these organizations pool the funds of multiple trusts together and invest them. When it comes to payments, beneficiaries get an amount equal to their percentage of the pooled trust’s balance.

A special needs trust lets you write down what you wish your funds’ purpose to be, making it legally binding. Special needs trusts are irrevocable, so you can also protect your funds from creditors and lawsuits against the trust’s beneficiary. It lets you help your beneficiary deal with the expenses that come with illness or disability, without hampering their ability to get other assistance.

Reference: KAKE (September 30, 2019) “How a Special Needs Trust Works”

 

When Should I Start Looking into Long-Term Care?

You can bet that you won’t need long-term care in your lifetime, but it’s not a sure thing: about 70% of seniors 65 and older require long-term care at some point. That could be just a few months with a home health aide or it could mean a year (or more) of nursing home care. You can’t know for sure. However, without long-term care insurance, you run the risk that you’ll be forced to cover a very large expense on your own.

The Motley Fool’s recent article, “75% of Older Americans Risk This Major Expense in the Future,” says many older workers are going into retirement without long-term care coverage in place. In a recent Nationwide survey, 75% of future retirees aged 50 and over said they that don’t have long-term care insurance. If that’s you, you should begin considering it, because the older you get, the more difficult it becomes to qualify, and the more expensive it becomes.

Long-term care insurance can be costly, which is why many people don’t buy it. However, the odds are that your policy won’t be anywhere near as expensive as the actual price for the care you could end up needing. That’s why it’s important to look at your options for long-term care insurance. The ideal time to apply is in your mid-50s. At that age, you’re more likely to be approved along with some discounts on your premiums. If you wait too long, you’ll risk being denied or seeing premiums that are prohibitively expensive.

Note that not all policies are not the same. Therefore, you should look at what items are outside of your premium costs. This may include things such as the maximum daily benefit the policy permits or the maximum time frame covered by your policy. It should really be two years at a minimum. There are policies written that have a waiting period for having your benefits kick in and others that either don’t have one or have shorter time frames. Compare your options and see what makes the most sense.

You don’t necessarily need the most expensive long-term care policy available. If you’ve saved a good amount for retirement, you’ll have the option of tapping your IRA or 401(k) to cover the cost of your care. The same is true if you own a home worth a lot of money, because you can sell it or borrow against it.

It’s important to remember to explore your options for long-term care insurance, before that window of opportunity shuts because of age or health problems. Failing to secure a policy could leave you to cover what could be a devastatingly expensive bill.

Reference: Motley Fool (September 23, 2019) “75% of Older Americans Risk This Major Expense in the Future”

Image of Sigerson Book

Request a No-Cost, No-Obligation Consultation, and Receive a Complimentary Copy of our new book: The Family Estate Planning and Elder Law Guide