Does a Supplemental Needs Trust have an Impact on Government Benefits?

Supplemental Needs Trusts allow disabled individuals to retain inheritances or gifts without eliminating or reducing government benefits, like Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). There are cases where the individual is vulnerable to exploitation or unable to manage their own finances and using an SNT allows them to receive additional funds to pay for things not covered by their benefits.

Having an experienced estate planning attorney properly create the SNT is critical to preserving the individual’s benefits, according to a recent article titled “Protecting Government Benefits using Supplemental Needs Trusts” from Mondaq.

Disabled individuals who receive SSI must be careful, since the rules about assets from SSI are far more restrictive then if the person only received Medicaid or Social Security Disability and Medicaid.

The trustee of an SNT makes distributions to third parties like personal care items, transportation (including buying a car), entertainment, technology purchases, payment of rent and medical or therapeutic equipment. Payment of rent or even ownership of a home may be paid for by the trustee.

The SNT may not make cash distributions to the beneficiary. Payment for any items or services must be made directly to the service provider, retailers, or other entity, for benefit of the individual. Not following this rule could lead to the SNT becoming invalid.

SNTs may be funded using the disabled person’s own funds or by a third party for their benefit. If the SNT is funded using the person’s own funds, it is called a “Self-Settled SNT.” This is a useful tool if the disabled person inherits money, receives a court settlement or owned assets before becoming disabled.

If someone other than the disabled person funds the SNT, it’s known as a “Third-Party SNT.” These are most commonly created as part of an estate plan to protect a family member and ensure they have supplementary funds as needed and to preserve assets for other family members when the disabled individual dies.

The most important distinction between a Self-Settled SNT and a Third-Party SNT is a Self-Settled SNT must contain a provision to direct the trust to pay back the state’s Medicaid agency for any assistance provided. This is known as a “Payback Provision.”

The Third-Party SNT is not required to contain this provision and any assets remaining in the trust at the time of the disabled person’s death may be passed on to residual beneficiaries.

Many estate planning attorneys use a “standby” SNT as part of their planning, so their loved ones may be protected, in case an unexpected event occurs and a family member becomes disabled.

References: Mondaq (May 27, 2022) “Protecting Government Benefits using Supplemental Needs Trusts”

 

 

What a Will Can and Cannot Do

Having a will doesn’t avoid probate, the court-directed process of validating a will and confirming the executor. To avoid probate, an estate planning attorney can create trusts and other ways for assets to be transferred directly to heirs before or upon death. Estate planning is guided by the laws of each state, according to the article “Before writing your own will know what wills can, can’t and shouldn’t try to do” from Arkansas Online.

In some states, probate is not expensive or lengthy, while in others it is costly and time-consuming. However, one thing is consistent: when a will is probated, it becomes part of the public record and anyone who wishes to read it, like creditors, ex-spouses, or estranged children, may do so.

One way to bypass probate is to create a revocable living trust and then transfer ownership of real estate, financial accounts, and other assets into the trust. You can be the trustee, but upon your death, your successor trustee takes charge and distributes assets according to the directions in the trust.

Another way people avoid probate is to have assets retitled to be owned jointly. However, anything owned jointly is vulnerable, depending upon the good faith of the other owner. And if the other owner has trouble with creditors or is ending a marriage, the assets may be lost to debt or divorce.

Accounts with beneficiaries, like life insurance and retirement funds bypass probate. The person named as the beneficiary receives assets directly. Just be sure the designated beneficiaries are updated every few years to be current.

Assets titled “Payable on Death” (POD), or “Transfer on Death” (TOD) designate beneficiaries and bypass probate, but not all financial institutions allow their use.

In some states, you can have a TOD deed for real estate or vehicles. Your estate planning attorney will know what your state allows.

Some people think they can use their wills to enforce behavior, putting conditions on inheritances, but certain conditions are not legally enforceable. If you required a nephew to marry or divorce before receiving an inheritance, it’s not likely to happen. Someone must also oversee the bequest and decide when the inheritance can be distributed.

However, trusts can be used to set conditions on asset distribution. The trust documents are used to establish your wishes for the assets and the trustee is charged with following your directions on when and how much to distribute assets to beneficiaries.

Leaving money to a disabled person who depends on government benefits puts their eligibility for benefits like Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid at risk. An estate planning attorney can create a Special Needs Trust to allow for an inheritance without jeopardizing their services.

Finally, in certain states you can use a will to disinherit a spouse, but it’s not easy. Every state has a way to protect a spouse from being completely disinherited. In community property states, a spouse has a legal right to half of any property acquired during the marriage, regardless of how the property is titled. In other states, a spouse has a legal right to a third to one half of the estate, regardless of what is in the will. An experienced estate planning attorney can help draft the documents, but depending on your state and circumstances, it may not be possible to completely disinherit a spouse.

Reference: Arkansas Online (Dec. 27, 2021) “Before writing your own will know what wills can, can’t and shouldn’t try to do”

Estate Planning and a Second Marriage

In California, a community property state, a resident can bequeath (leave) 100% of their separate property assets and half of their community property assets. A resident may only bequeath the entirety of a community property asset to someone other than their spouse with their spouse’s consent or acquiescence. This can be extremely important to those in second marriages with prior children.

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Estate planning for second marriages” asks, first, does the individual’s (the testator) spouse even need support? If they don’t, a testator typically leaves his or her separate property assets directly to his or her own children. However, because the surviving spouse is an heir of the testator, his or her will and/or trust must acknowledge the marriage and say that the spouse is not inheriting. Otherwise, the surviving spouse as heir may be entitled either to a one-half or one-third share in the testator’s separate property, along with all of the couple’s community property assets. The surviving spouse would inherit, if the testator died intestate (with no will) or he or she passed with an outdated will he or she signed before this marriage that left out the current spouse.

If the spouse needs support, consider the assets and family relationships. Determine if the assets are the surviving spouse’s separate property from prior to marriage or from inheritance while married. It is also important to know if the testator’s spouse and children get along and whether it’s possible for the beneficiaries to inherit separate assets. If the testator’s surviving spouse and children aren’t on good terms and/or are close in age, and if it’s possible for separate assets to go to each party, perhaps they should inherit separate assets outright and part company. If not, it can get heated and complicated quickly. For example, the testator’s house could be left to his or her children and a retirement plan goes to the testator’s spouse.

If that type of set-up doesn’t work, a testator might consider making the spouse a lifetime beneficiary of a trust that owns some or all of an individual’s assets. A trust requires careful drafting, so work with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Next, determine if the children need support, and if so, what kind of support, such as Supplemental Security Income. Also think about whether the children can manage an outright inheritance or if a special needs or a support trust is required.

This just scratches the surface of this complex topic. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about your specific situation.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Feb. 23, 2021) “Estate planning for second marriages”

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 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”

 

What Changes Will Be Made to Social Security This Year?

While Social Security now delivers benefit checks to more than 63 million people every month, the program is primarily designed to provide a financial foundation for our nation’s retired workers. Nearly 45 million retired workers (70% of all beneficiaries) receive a benefit check monthly, with more than 60% of these seniors expecting their payout to make up at least half of their income.

Motley Fool’s recent article, “5 Social Security Changes in 2020 That Could Affect Your Take-Home Income” explains that with the relative importance of Social Security, it should come as no shock that the second week of October holds considerable importance to these tens of millions of Americans. That’s because it’s when the Social Security Administration (SSA) announces changes to the program for the upcoming year. Any changes could directly affect what beneficiaries are paid on a monthly basis. These changes can also affect non-retirees who aren’t getting a Social Security benefit Let’s look at some of these changes.

  1. COLA. The most important figure in the October announcement from the Social Security Administration is the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). Social Security’s COLA is measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). The average monthly CPI-W reading from the third quarter of the current year (July through September) is compared to the average monthly CPI-W reading from the third quarter of the previous year. If the average figure has risen from the previous year, then beneficiaries receive a “raise” that’s commensurate with the percentage increase year over year, rounded to the nearest 0.1%.
  2. Withholding thresholds. Early claimants who haven’t hit their full retirement age but are currently (or expected to begin) taking benefits, will be subject to the retirement earnings test. This test allows early filers to earn up to a certain amount of money, before the SSA is allowed to withhold a portion, or all, of their benefit. For those who won’t reach their full retirement age in 2019, $1 in benefits can be withheld for every $2 in earnings above $17,640 ($1,470 a month). For those who’ll reach their full retirement age this year but have yet to do so, are allowed to earn $46,920 before the SSA begins withholding $1 in benefits for every $3 in earnings above the limit. Note that these withheld benefits aren’t lost forever, because you get them back in the form of a higher monthly payout when you reach your full retirement age.
  3. Maximum monthly payout. If you’re currently claiming a retired worker benefit and have made a good deal of money on an annual basis over your working career, there’s a chance that you’ll be able to net more in monthly payouts in 2020. There’s a cap on the maximum monthly payout at full retirement age. In 2019, no individual at their full retirement age can take home more than $2,861 per month, even if they made millions of dollars each year throughout their working career.
  4. Disability income thresholds. Even though 7 of 10 program recipients are retired workers, about 10 million people each month also get a check from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Approximately 8½ million are disabled workers, and the rest are spouses or children of these disabled workers. If the average CPI-W reading does increase on a year-over-year basis from the previous year (which appears likely), these SSDI income thresholds for the disabled and legally blind should go up a little in 2020.
  5. A warning to the wealthy. Lastly, Social Security’s changes for 2020 won’t just impact those receiving a benefit. Wealthy workers can also anticipate paying more into the program, provided that inflation rises on a year-over-year basis, as measured by the CPI-W.

Reference: Motley Fool (July 28, 2019) “5 Social Security Changes in 2020 That Could Affect Your Take-Home Income”