What Should I Know About a Special Needs Trust?

Leaving assets to loved ones with disabilities in a special needs trust can provide support while preserving government benefits.

Your loved ones with disabilities may be eligible for a number of government programs. However, Pauls Valley (OK) Democrat’s recent article asks “Can your family benefit from a special needs trust?” The article reminds us that these programs don’t cover everything. You may need to close the gaps.

Many government programs have eligibility restrictions based on the amount and type of financial assets that are available to the recipient. This means the financial help you want to provide may do more harm than good, unless you establish a special needs trust.

A special needs trust, also known as a supplemental needs trust and by the acronym SNT, is a trust that provides assets for a disabled beneficiary in the discretion of the trustee.  The beneficiary typically can’t use the trust for basic support or to receive benefits that can be provided by the government. The special needs trust can be used to provide specialized therapy, special equipment, recreational outings and other expenses.  In short, for the needs not already served by the government benefits.

These types of trusts come up more often than people realize.  Often, clients consider making special needs trust for their children with disabilities.  But, it is also important to consider that elderly loved ones may utilize Medicaid for their long-term care.  If they do (or might) then it makes sense to set up a special needs trust for them as well.  This might be for elderly parents, siblings, or even spouses!  See our overview for more detail.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/practice-areas/elder-law/

When considering a special needs trust, you’ll need to look at several issues with your attorney.  First, whose assets will it hold?  If the disabled individual is creating or funding a trust with their own assets (called a First Party Special Needs Trust), you have a very different set of rules which I won’t address here.  If you are creating the special needs trust for someone else (called a Third Party Special Needs Trust) you need to consider who will be the trustee.

You could name a family member or close friend as a trustee. While this works well for many, it has the potential to cause family conflicts and becomes a burden.  You could also name a trust company.  A trust company can provide professional management, expertise and continuity of administration, especially for younger beneficiaries who will outlive their care providers. A third option is to name an individual and a trust company as trustees.

The second critical issue with a special needs trust is funding the trust. You can fund the trust during your lifetime or have it activated when you die.  Note that you don’t have to be the sole donor. A special needs trust can be created so other family members can also contribute to it, as long as the person receiving benefits doesn’t contribute.  The trust can be funded with securities (stocks and bonds), IRA proceeds, insurance death benefits and other assets. 

You’ll need to understand the requirements of various federal, state and local benefit programs for people with disabilities, so that your loved one’s benefits are not at risk.

Speak with an experienced elder law or estate planning attorney about how you can to make life better for a family member with disabilities by using a special needs trust.

Reference:  Pauls Valley (OK) Democrat (August 1, 2019) “Can your family benefit from a special needs trust?”

Continue Reading

Scam Alert: Is It Real or a Robocall?

Robocallers target seniors with phone scams
Robocallers target seniors with phone scams.

AARP recently put out an alert to seniors with advice on how not to fall for robocall scams. Robocalls are a daily annoyance at best and, at worst, a way for criminals to wipe out your savings. Law enforcement officials working on catching these crooks face daunting challenges because telephone scammers are highly organized and operate out of many different countries. However, there are some key phrases and tactics these con artists use. This information can help you answer the question: Is it a robocall?

Experts advise people not to answer any phone call, if you do not recognize the number of the caller. This advice used to be more useful before the scammers found ways to hijack Caller ID and mask their calls, as coming from people or organizations you know or trust.

The scams tend to follow certain patterns, depending on the type of fraud the crooks are trying to perpetrate. Here are some examples:

Social Security Scam

You might get a phone call in which the caller tells you that someone has stolen your Social Security number and is using your number to commit crimes. This is a scam. The Social Security Administration notifies people of essential information by regular mail, not by calling people on the phone.

The caller will try to get you to give private information. Again, this is a scam. The Social Security Administration does not call people and ask for personal information.

These callers often threaten people that there is a warrant for their arrest and the only way to keep from getting arrested and thrown into jail, is to give them the personal information they want. Only con artists make these threats. The Social Security Administration does not call people and threaten to arrest them and throw them into jail.

For your peace of mind: if you get a call like this, hang up right away, then contact your local Social Security office to make sure that there are no issues with your Social Security number. If you make the call to the Social Security office yourself, you will know you are talking to the right people.

Jury Duty Scam

You get a phone call from someone pretending to work at the police department or sheriff’s office. The caller accuses you of missing jury duty and says that there is a warrant for your arrest. You must pay a fine to people who pretend to be the police.

This is a scam. Jury duty notifications are by mail, not by phone. Courts also do not telephone people to demand payments. Courts send notices of fines by mail. The police and sheriff’s department do not call people to collect fine payments.

If someone calls you with this scheme, hang up right away. For your peace of mind: Contact the jury administrator of your county, city or local federal courts to see if you missed jury duty.

These scam artists prey on your fear of getting arrested, even when you know you did nothing wrong. The fraudsters will bully, harass, and threaten you to try to steal your money. You cannot talk them out of what they are doing or get them to admit that they are committing a crime. Your best option is to hang up immediately, then contact the relevant legitimate government agency to verify that what the caller said was false.

References:

AARP. “How to Recognize a Robocall.” (accessed May 2, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2019/recognize-a-robocall.html

Suggested Key Terms: 

Continue Reading

Social Security Benefits – What Happens When a Spouse Dies?

Social Security benefits can change after the death of a spouse.
What happens to Social Security on the death of a spouse?

Imagine both spouses are receiving Social Security when one spouse dies. What will happen with their Social Security checks?  How does the survivor obtain death certificates? How complicated will it be to obtain survivor benefits?

First, what happens to the Social Security monthly benefits? Social Security benefits are always one month behind. The check you receive in May, for example, is the benefit payment for April.

Second, Social Security benefits are not prorated. If you took benefits at age 66, and then turned 66 on September 28, you would get a check for the whole month of September, even though you were only 66 for three days of the month.

If your spouse dies on January 28, you would not be due the proceeds of that January Social Security check, even though he or she was alive for 28 days of the month.

So, when a spouse dies, the monies for that month may have to be returned. The computer-matching systems linking the government agencies and banks may make this unnecessary, if the benefits are not issued. Or, if the benefits were issued, the Treasury Department may simply interrupt the payment and return it to the government, before it reaches a bank account.

There may be a twist, depending upon the date of the decedent’s passing. Let’s say that a spouse dies on April 3. Because he or she lived throughout the entire month of March, that means the benefits for March are due, even though they are paid in April. If a check was not issued or sent back because of the date, it should eventually be reissued.

Obtaining death certificates is usually handled by the funeral director, or the city, county or state bureaus of vital statistics. You will need more than one original death certificate for use with banks, investments, etc. The Social Security office may or may not need one, as they may receive proof of death from other sources, including the funeral home.

If you were already receiving spousal benefits on the deceased spouse’s work record, Social Security will in most cases switch you automatically to survivor benefits when the death is reported.  Otherwise, you will need to apply for survivor benefits by phone at the 800 number for Social Security or in person at your local Social Security office.

If you had only received a spousal benefit as a non-working spouse and you are over full retirement age, then you receive whatever your spouse was receiving at the time of his or her death. If you were getting your own retirement benefits, keep in mind that you will not receive a survivor benefit in addition to your own retirement benefits. Social Security will pay the higher of the two amounts.

Survivor benefits will begin effective on the month of your spouse’s death. If your spouse dies on June 28, then you will be due survivor benefits for the entire month of June, even if you were only a widow or widower for three days of the month. No matter what type of claim you file, you will also receive a one-time $255 death benefit.

Reference: Tuscon.com (March 13, 2019) “Social Security and You: What to do when a loved one dies”

Suggested Key Terms:

Continue Reading