A new company, Elderlife Financial Services, is now offering bridge loans to families to help pay the cost of long-term care. This can be a great solution to families who need to pay for nursing home care, but have most of their assets tied up in real estate that won’t sell. Read more about these loans here.
Have you been thinking of meeting with a special needs planner to put a plan in place for a child or loved one but you just haven’t made the call? Or have you already met with an attorney and not finalized your plan, even though you swore you would get to it yesterday? If either of these examples sounds like you, then a recent case from New Jersey should make you think twice about waiting to finalize that estate plan that you have been meaning to get to.
Margaret Flood had four children, including two daughters with special needs who received government benefits. Concerned about leaving an inheritance directly to the daughters with special needs, and thus cause them to lose their benefits, Ms. Flood consulted with an attorney about the possibility of creating a special needs trusts for them. However, Ms. Flood did not follow up with her attorney after the initial meeting, and time passed.
Tragically, Ms. Flood passed away before finalizing her plan. Because she died without a will of any kind, Ms. Flood’s property became subject to New Jersey’s intestacy law. An intestacy law is a state statute that dictates who will receive your property if you die without a will (some property, like retirement accounts and jointly owned property, passes outside of this system). Under New Jersey’s law, Ms. Flood’s $480,000 estate passed in equal shares directly to all four children, including the two daughters who could not receive funds without compromising their vital government benefits.
The administrator of Ms. Flood’s estate attempted to undo the damage by filing an action in court seeking to create and fund two special needs trusts to hold the inheritances for Ms. Flood’s daughters with special needs. The administrator argued that it was Ms. Flood’s intent to create the trusts, and since her intent was clear, the court should put her probable plan into effect and preserve her daughters’ benefits. This legal theory is sometimes used when a will or a trust is unclear and needs to be reformed after the fact in order for the instrument to function as its creator intended. In this case, the court allowed the administrator to establish the special needs trusts even though Ms. Flood had no will at all.
But Ms. Flood’s heirs would run out of luck when the case was appealed to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey. That court reversed the lower court’s decision and prevented the funds from flowing into the special needs trusts for Ms. Flood’s daughters. The appellate court ruled that the trial court overstepped its bounds by bypassing the intestacy laws, and it further ruled that under New Jersey law, there was no option — Ms. Flood’s daughters must receive their inheritance directly, regardless of the effect that might have on their government benefits.
Ms. Flood tried to do the right thing and simply ran out of time to put a plan in action. Don’t let this happen to you; if you are thinking about forming a special needs plan, there is no time like the present.
A special needs trust is set up for a person with special needs to supplement any benefits the person with special needs may receive from government programs. A properly drafted special needs trust will allow the beneficiary to receive government benefits while still receiving funds from the trust. There are three main types of special needs trusts, but first it is important to understand how a typical trust works.
A trust is really a relationship between three parties — a donor, who supplies the funds for the trust; a trustee, who agrees to hold and administer the funds according to the donor’s wishes; and a beneficiary or beneficiaries who receive the benefit of the funds. Often, but not always, the donor’s wishes are spelled out in a document that gives the trustee instructions about how she should use the trust assets. Trusts have been used for estate planning for a long time, and are highly useful tools for ensuring that a donor’s property is administered as he sees fit. One of the reasons trusts are so popular is that they usually survive the death of the donor, providing a low-cost way to manage the donor’s assets for others when the donor is gone.
A special needs trust is a trust tailored to a person with special needs that is designed to manage assets for that person’s benefit while not compromising access to important government benefits. There are three main types of special needs trusts: the first-party trust, the third-party trust, and the pooled trust. All three name the person with special needs as the beneficiary. A “first-party” special needs trust holds assets that belong to the person with special needs, such as an inheritance or an accident settlement. A “third-party” special needs trust holds funds belonging to other people who want to help the person with special needs. A pooled trust holds funds from many different beneficiaries with special needs.
The reason there are several different types of trusts has to do with regulations regarding Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is a government program that assists people with low incomes who have special needs. In order to qualify for SSI, an applicant or beneficiary can have only $2,000 in his own name. If the person has more than $2,000 in his own name, (typically because of excess savings, an inheritance or an accident settlement), the government allows him to qualify for SSI so long as he places his assets into a first-party special needs trust. The trust must be created by the beneficiary’s parent or grandparent, or by a court, but it cannot be created by the beneficiary, even though his assets are going to fund the trust. While the beneficiary is living, the funds in the trust are used for his benefit, and when he dies, any assets remaining in the trust are used to reimburse the government for the cost of his medical care. These trusts are especially useful for beneficiaries who are receiving SSI and come into large amounts of money, because the trust allows the beneficiary to retain his benefits while still being able to use his own funds when necessary.
The third-party special needs trust is most often used by parents and other family members to assist a person with special needs. These trusts can hold any kind of asset imaginable belonging to the family member or other individual, including a house, stocks and bonds, and other types of investments. The third-party trust functions like a first-party special needs trust in that the assets held in the trust do not affect an SSI beneficiary’s access to benefits and the funds can be used to pay for the beneficiary’s supplemental needs beyond those covered by government benefits. But a third-party special needs trust does not contain the “payback” provision found in first-party trusts. This means that when the beneficiary with special needs dies, any funds remaining in her trust can pass to other family members, or to charity, without having to be used to reimburse the government.
A pooled trust is an alternative to the first-party special needs trust. Essentially, a charity sets up these trusts that allow beneficiaries to pool their resources for investment purposes, while still maintaining separate accounts for each beneficiary’s needs. When the beneficiary dies, the funds remaining in her account reimburse the government for her care, but a portion also goes towards the non-profit organization responsible for managing the trust.
Anyone can establish a special needs trust and, if the trust is properly drafted to account for tax planning, in certain situations gifts into the trust could very well reduce the size of the donor’s taxable estate. As if these are not enough reasons to create a trust, elderly people who are attempting to qualify for long-term care coverage through Medicaid can transfer their assets into a properly drafted third-party special needs trust for the sole benefit of a person with disabilities without incurring a transfer-of-assets penalty, allowing the elder to qualify for Medicaid and making sure that the person with disabilities is taken care of in the future.
Of course, every person with special needs is different, which means that every special needs trust is going to be different as well. The only way to determine which special needs trust is right for your family is to meet with a qualified special needs planner to discuss your needs. Call our office today to find out if a special needs trust is right for your family: 919-680-0000.
Wiggen Law Group will be hosting a joint presentation with Always Best Care next Thursday, August 26th at 11:00am at the Durham Center for Senior Life.
Stephanie Gregory from Always Best Care will discuss the different types of long-term care available to seniors, such as in-home care, independent living, assisted living and nursing home care.
Dori Wiggen from Wiggen Law Group will follow this discussion with information about benefits available to seniors to help pay for long-term care, such as medicaid, special assistance and a special benefit offered to veterans or their widows called aid and attendance. Contact the Durham Center for Senior Life today to sign up to attend this FREE presentation.
This NY Times article has great tips on finding the right care for aging loved ones and how to pay for this care. One note, the article says that Medicaid will not pay for assisted living. However, North Carolina has a program called Special Assistance that can provide assistance to eligible individuals. To find out if you or a loved one is eligible for assistance with the cost of long-term care, you should speak with an elder law attorney. At Wiggen Law Group, we can assist you in planning for the cost of long-term care.
Interesting article about parental support. North Carolina does have a law regarding a child’s obligation to support his or her parents but I haven’t seen it enforced.