How Do Special Needs Trusts Work?

Special needs trusts (SNT) are critical tools for protecting a beneficiary with disabilities’ benefits while providing for their needs.

Special needs trusts (or supplemental needs trusts) have been used for many years. However, there are two factors that are changing and clients need to be aware of them, says the article “Special-Needs Trusts: How They Work and What Has Changed” from The Wall Street Journal. For one thing, many people with disabilities and chronic illnesses are leading much longer lives because of medical advances. As a result, they are often outliving their  primary caregivers. This makes planning for the long term more critical, and the use of special needs trusts more critical.

Second, there have been significant changes in tax laws, specifically laws concerning inherited retirement accounts.

Special needs planning has never been easy because of the many unknowns. How much care will be needed? How much will it cost? How long will the person with disabilities need them? Tax rules are complex and coordinating special needs planning with estate planning can be a challenge. A 2018 study from the University of Illinois found that less than 50% of parents of children with disabilities had planned for their children’s future. Parents who had not done any planning told researchers they were just overwhelmed.

Here are some of the basics:

A special needs trust, or SNT, is created to protect the assets of a person with a disability, including mental or physical conditions. The trust may be used to pay for various goods and services, including medical equipment, education, home furnishings, etc.

A trustee is appointed to manage all and any spending. The beneficiary has no control over assets inside the trust. The assets are not owned by the beneficiary, so the beneficiary should continue to be eligible for government programs that limit assets, including Supplemental Security Income or Medicaid.

There are different types of Special Needs Trusts: pooled, first party and third party. They are not simple entities to create, so it’s important to work with an experienced estate elder law attorney who is familiar with these trusts.

To fund the trust after parents have passed, they could name the Special Needs Trust as the beneficiary of their IRA, so withdrawals from the account would be paid to the trust to benefit their child. There will be required minimum distributions (RMDs), because the IRA would become an Inherited IRA and the trust would need to take distributions.

The SECURE Act from 2019 ended the ability to stretch out RMDs for inherited traditional IRAs from lifetime to ten years. However, the SECURE Act created exceptions: individuals who are disabled or chronically ill are still permitted to take distributions over their lifetimes. This has to be done correctly, or it won’t work. However, done correctly, it could provide income over the special needs individual’s lifetime.

The strategy assumes that the SNT beneficiary is disabled or chronically ill, according to the terms of the tax code. The terms are defined very strictly and may not be the same as the requirements for SSI or Medicaid.

The traditional IRA may or may not be the best way to fund an SNT. It may create larger distributions than are permitted by the SNT or create large tax bills. Roth IRAs or life insurance may be the better options.

The goal is to exchange assets, like traditional IRAs, for more tax-efficient assets to reach post-death planning solutions for the special needs individual, long after their parents and caregivers have passed.

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (June 3, 2021) “Special-Needs Trusts: How They Work and What Has Changed”

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Massive Changes to RMDs from Stimulus Package

The coronavirus stimulus package extended IRA contribution deadlines and waived 2020 RMDs.

Several of the provisions that were signed into law in the stimulus package relief bill can taken advantage of immediately, reports Financial Planning in the article “Major changes in RMDs and retirement contributions in $2T stimulus plan.” Here are some highlights.

Extended deadline for 2019 IRA contributions. With the tax return filing date extended to July 15, 2020 from April 16, the date for making 2019 contributions to IRA and Roth IRA contributions has also been extended to the same date. Those contributions normally must be made by April 15 of the following year, but this is no normal year. There have never been extensions to the April 15 deadline, even when taxpayers filed for extensions.

When this tax return deadline was extended, most financial professionals doubted the extension would only apply to IRA contributions, but the IRS responded in a timely manner, issuing guidance titled “Filing and Payment Deadlines Questions and Answers.” These changes give taxpayers more time to decide if they still want to contribute, and how much. Job losses and market downturns that accompanied the COVID-19 outbreak have changed the retirement savings priorities for many Americans. Just be sure when you do make a contribution to your account, note that it is for 2019 because financial custodians may just automatically consider it for 2020. A phone call to confirm will likely be in order.

RMDs are waived for 2020. As a result stimulus package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARE Act), Required Minimum Distributions from IRAs are waived. Prior to the stimulus package’s enactment, 2020 RMDs would be very high as they would be based on the substantially higher account values of December 31, 2019 instead of the current lower values due to the drop in the market. If not for this relief, IRA owners would have to withdraw and pay tax on a much larger percentage of their IRA balances. By eliminating the RMD for 2020, tax bills will be lower for those who don’t need to take the money from their accounts. For 2019 RMDs not yet taken, the waiver still applies. It also applies to IRA owners who turned 70 ½ in 2019. This was a surprise, as the SECURE Act just increased the RMD age to 72 for those who turn 70 ½ in 2020 or later.  See here for a much fuller description of how the SECURE Act changed retirement planning.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/the-secure-act/

IRA beneficiaries subject to the five- year rule. Another group benefiting from these new rules are beneficiaries who inherited in 2015 or later and are subject to the 5-year payout rule. Those beneficiaries may have inherited through a will or were beneficiaries of a trust that didn’t qualify as a designated beneficiary. They now have one more year—until December 31, 2021—to withdraw the entire amount in the account. Beneficiaries who inherited from 2015-2020 now have six years, instead of five.

Additional relief for retirement accounts. The new act also waives the early 10% early distribution penalty on up to $100,000 of 2020 distributions from IRAs and company plans for ‘affected individuals.’ The tax will still be due, but it can be spread over three years and the funds may be repaid over the three-year period.

Many changes have been implemented from the stimulus package. Speak with your estate planning attorney to be sure that you are taking full advantage of the changes and not running afoul of any new or old laws regarding retirement accounts.

Reference: Financial Planning (March 27, 2020) “Major changes in RMDs and retirement contributions in $2T stimulus plan”

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How the SECURE Act Impacts Your Estate Plan

The SECURE Act made major changes to beneficiary distributions you should consider in your estate plan.

The SECURE Act has made big changes to how certain retirement plans, such as IRAs, 401(k)s, and 403(b)s, distribute after death. Anyone who owns such a retirement plan, regardless of its size, needs to examine their retirement savings plan and their estate plan to see how these changes will have an impact. The article “SECURE Act New IRA Rules: Change Your Estate Plan” from Forbes explains what the changes are and the steps that need be taken.  Our firm has mentioned the SECURE Act in past blogs, such as here:  https://www.galliganmanning.com/proposed-ira-rules-and-their-effect-on-stretch-iras/ on Kevin’s Korner and will address the impact of these changes in the future, but today I wanted to focus on some key issues as mentioned in the article.

First, the SECURE Act means changes to some existing estate plans, especially ones including provisions creating conduit trusts that had been created to hold retirement plan death benefits and preserve the stretch benefit, while the retirement plan owner was still alive.  Existing conduit trusts may need to be modified before the owner’s death to address how the SECURE Act might undermine the intent of the trust or to evaluate possible plans.

This first change will apply to many, many clients.  A typical client who may be affected by the SECURE Act is a parent creating a trust for their children’s inheritance.  These types of trusts typically serve to provide creditor or divorce protection for their beneficiaries while maximizing the tax benefits of stretching the retirement.  Now that the stretch benefit may not apply to a beneficiary, it may make sense to alter the trust to maximize asset protection instead of the tax savings that are no longer available.  If you have this situation, you definitely want to review your plan.

Another potential strategy for clients who are including charities in their estate plan be making a charity the beneficiary of the retirement account, and possibly using life insurance or other planning strategies to create a replacement for the value of the charitable donation to heirs.

One more creative alternative is to pay the retirement account balance to a Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT) on death that will stretch out the distributions to the beneficiary of the CRT over that beneficiary’s lifetime under the CRT rules. Paired with a life insurance trust, this might replace the assets that will ultimately pass to the charity under the CRT rules.  This is a more complex strategy, but may be effective for charitably minded clients.

The biggest change in the SECURE Act being examined by estate planning and tax planning attorneys is the loss of the stretch treatment for beneficiaries inheriting retirement plans after 2019. Most beneficiaries who inherit a retirement account after 2019 will be required to completely withdraw all plan assets within ten years of the date of death.

One result of the change of this law will be to generate tax revenues. In the past, the ability to stretch retirement payments out over many years, even decades, allowed families to pass wealth across generations with minimal taxes, while the retirement account continued to grow tax free.

Another interesting change: No withdrawals need be made during that ten-year period, if that is the beneficiary’s wish. However, at the ten-year mark, ALL assets must be withdrawn, and taxes paid.

Under the prior law, the period in which the retirement assets needed to be distributed was based on whether the plan owner died before or after the RMD and the age of the beneficiary.

The deferral of withdrawals and income tax benefits encouraged many retirement account owners to bequeath a large retirement balance completely to their heirs. Others, with larger retirement accounts, used a conduit trust to flow the RMDs to the beneficiary and protect the balance of the plan.

There are exceptions to the 10-year SECURE Act payout rule. Certain “eligible designated beneficiaries” are not required to follow the ten-year rule. They include the surviving spouse, chronically ill heirs, disabled heirs and some individuals not less than 10 years younger than the account owner. Minor children are also considered eligible beneficiaries, but when they become legal adults, the ten year distribution rule applies to them. Therefore, by age 28 (ten years after attaining legal majority), they must take all assets from the retirement plan and pay the taxes as applicable.

The new law and its ramifications are under intense scrutiny by members of the estate planning and elder law bar because of these and other changes. If you believe these changes affect you, contact our office at 713-522-9220 to review your estate plan to ensure that your goals will be achieved in light of these changes.

Reference: Forbes (Dec. 25, 2019) “SECURE Act New IRA Rules: Change Your Estate Plan”

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