Possible Pitfalls for Special Needs Planning for Parents

Public benefits for disabled individuals include health care, supplemental income, and resources, like day programs and other vital services. Some benefits are based on the individual’s disability status, but others are “needs tested,” where eligibility is determined based on financial resources, as explained in the article “Planning for loved ones with special needs” from NWTimes.com.

Needs testing” is something that parents must address as part of special needs planning, in concert with their own estate planning. This ensures that the individual’s government benefits will continue, while their family has the comfort of knowing that after the parents die, their child may have access to resources to cover additional costs and maintain a quality of life they may not otherwise have.

Families must be very careful to make informed planning decisions, otherwise their loved ones may lose the benefits they rely upon.

A variety of special planning tools may be used, and the importance of skilled help from an elder law estate planning attorney cannot be overstated.

One family received a “re-determination” letter from the Social Security Administration. This is the process whereby the SSA scrutinizes a person’s eligibility for benefits, based on their possible access to other non-governmental resources. Once the process begins, the potential exists for a disabled person to lose benefits or be required to pay back benefits if they were deemed to have wrongfully received them.

In this case, a woman who lived in California, engaged in a periodic phone call with California Medicaid. California is known for aggressively pursuing on-going benefits eligibility. The woman mentioned a trust that had been created as a result of estate planning done by her late father. The brief mention was enough to spark an in-depth review of planning. The SSA requested no less than 15 different items, including estate documents, account history and a review of all disbursements for the last two years.

The process has created a tremendous amount of stress for the woman and for her family. The re-determination will also create expenses, as the attorney who drafted the original trust in Indiana, where the father lived, will need to work with a special needs attorney in California, who is knowledgeable about the process in the state.

Similar to estate planning, the special needs process required by Medicaid and the SSA is a constantly evolving process, and not a “one-and-done” transaction. Special needs and estate planning documents created as recently as three or four years ago should be reviewed.

Reference: NWTimes.com (June 21, 2020) “Planning for loved ones with special needs”

Fraudulent Social Security Calls Still Targeting Seniors

You’d think everyone would know to ignore these calls. However, these criminals are so convincing, says The New York Times in the article “How Not to Become a Victim of Social Security Fraud Calls,” that many people fall for the schemes and end up losing money. They buy gift cards and often, give up their personal PIN (Personal Identification Number), losing thousands of dollars.

It’s not clear whether the volume of calls is increasing. However, the government is getting thousands of complaints about them, reports the Social Security Administration’s inspector general, Gail Ennis. There have been 250,000 online complaints made, since a new dedicated digital reporting form was released in November 2019.

Other regulators are also reporting a flood of complaints. The Federal Trade Commission has received more than 166,000 complaints about fraudulent Social Security calls last year, and the average individual loss is about $1,500. The Senate’s Special Committee on Aging said that Social Security impersonation schemes were the single most reported fraud on its fraud hotline last year.

In January, the committee heard from a woman who lost $150,000 in a Social Security scheme.

The government is trying to fight the fraud in a few different ways. The Justice Department took legal action in January against two telecommunication companies that it says serve as “gateways” for illegal robocalls, by funneling them to the U.S. from oversees. However, stopping the calls is not easily accomplished. There are many gateway telecommunications companies, so hitting two just means that the criminals will take their business elsewhere.

Congress passed the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRADED), which requires telecommunication companies to adopt technology to identify spoofed calls. Spoofed calls are calls that appear to come from legitimate phone numbers. However, the FCC has yet to set rules for how the law will be carried out, so relief for consumers may be as far as a year away.

Here’s what you need to know about Social Security and other fraudulent calls:

  • Don’t answer calls from unfamiliar numbers. Let the calls go to voicemail, or the answering machine, if you still use one.
  • If you answer the phone and someone demands money immediately, hang up.
  • Report the call to the inspector general’s office on the Social Security Administration’s website. There’s a form that asks you to create a unique identification number, so you can ask for that number if anyone calls to verify their identity.
  • Be aware that even a phone call that appears to be from Social Security mostly likely will not be from the agency. Schemes that involve a suspension of benefits work because they target senior’s biggest fear—losing their benefits.
  • There are other Social Security schemes. Some involve official looking papers, and there has been an increase in the number of scams that start with an official-looking text. The Social Security Administration does not text people, unless they have signed up to have authentication codes sent to your phone when logging into a Social Security account.

There’s not much that can be done by the individual to stop the endless stream of robocalls. You can register your number on the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call list, but that will only reduce calls from legitimate telemarketers. The criminals will still call. The best advice is not to answer the phone, unless it’s from someone you know, and never, ever give in to demands of immediate payment. That’s always a red flag for fraud.

Reference: The New York Times (March 6, 2020) “How Not to Become a Victim of Social Security Fraud Calls”