Archives: Special Needs Trusts

The Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) has tremendous implications for our practice, primarily negative, but is a huge boon to planning for persons with disabilities who have been shut out of the private insurance market in the past.  Our law firm’s loss is our clients’ gains, and we couldn’t be happier about it.

Depending on the November election, if Obama is re-elected, our clients with Special Needs Trusts will have the option to get off of public health programs, like Medicaid, and begin to pay for private health insurance from private health companies.  For the reasons mentioned in the attached "Commentary", we believe there are substantial resons why this will be appealing to many.  Whether, how and when to do it, however, will require a careful analysis of individual client’s needs.  Click the link below:

www.floridaspecialneedslaw.com/uploads/file/Lillesand – Commentary on the Impact of Affordable Care Act.pdf

The South Dakota Supreme Court decision attached actually pre-dates the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision yesterday by a couple of weeks, but comes to the same conclusion, and further adds language that no state may avoid application of the federal rule:

“[¶ 44.] In a CMS memorandum from Gale P. Arden, Director of Disabled and Elderly Health Programs Group at the Center for Medicaid and State Operations in Baltimore, the transfer penalty and pooled trust statutes at issue in this case were clarified. See Memorandum from Gale P. Arden to Jay Gavens, Acting Assoc. Regional Adm’r, Div. of Medicaid and Children’s Health (Apr. 14, 2008). In part, the memorandum stated:

Although a pooled trust may be established for beneficiaries of any age, funds placed in a pooled trust established for an individual age 65 or older may be subject to penalty as a transfer of assets for less than fair market value. When a person places funds in a trust, the person gives up ownership of the funds. Since the individual generally does not receive anything of comparable value in return, placing funds in a trust is usually a transfer for less than fair market value. The statute does provide an exception to imposing a transfer penalty for funds that are placed in a trust established for a disabled individual. However, only trusts established for a disabled individual 64 or younger are exempt from application of the transfer of assets penalty provisions ․

“Id. (emphasis added). CMS issued this memorandum because “it was brought to [its] attention that in many States individuals age 65 or older are establishing pooled trusts, but the States may not be applying the transfer of assets penalty provisions as required by statute.” Id. The memorandum explain[ed] that “[i]f States are allowing individuals age 65 or older to establish pooled trusts without applying the transfer of assets provisions, they are not in compliance with the statute. [F]ederal statute requires the application of the transfer rules in this situation; it [is] not a decision for each State to make.”8 Id.”

We recently were asked whether there were any special protections in federal or state public benefits law that would prevent Special Needs Trust assets and income distributions from them, from being counted in the disabled beneficiary’s ability to pay alimony and child support to his wife and children.

Our response is found here.

 The Chicago Regional Chief Counsel Precedent issued in May, 2010, restricts the use of “Retained Funds” after the member/beneficiary has died.

This decision represents “current policy, albeit unwritten” according to the head of the SSA office that drafts POMS in conversation on March 17, 2011. A similar decision was issued in New Jersey last summer. Another was applied by the San Francisco Regional Office against a pooled trust in Arizona. However, contemporaneously, there had been a proposed POMS on this subject last summer that was not issued – yet. Accordingly, SSA Regional Offices have been advised by the national office to consult the national office, and not apply this “precedent” below without consultation. However, in March, 2011, the San Francisco SSA Regional Office applied the policy to an Arizona trust. 

Thus, the safest route is to draft pooled trusts to comply with the standards on retained trusts delineated in the following opinion. Basically, the analysis indicates that the national office believes that the retained funds belong to the pooled trust (to be used for other members of the pooled trust), and do not belong to the sponsoring non-profit agency. 

Thus, the common practice of using retained funds to make “grants” to other agencies or the courts for the benefit of “disabled persons” in general, is not allowed under SSA’s view of the difference between d4A individual SNTs and d4C pooled SNTs].

Pooled Special Needs Trusts in three states – Minnesota, Arizona, and New Jersey – in three different regions of the country, have had their pooled trust disqualified based on the same analysis as in the Chicago Regional Office’s “Regional Chief Counsel Precedent” below. Note that in the body of the report, we find the language,

“However, we have recently received guidance from the Office of Income Security Programs (OISP) that funds retained by a pooled trust may be used only for the benefit of beneficiaries with accounts in the pooled trust. This means that the use of retained trust assets to add new trust beneficiaries (section 7.3B) and to aid disabled individuals generally (section 7.3C, D) are not acceptable under POMS SI 01120.203(B)(2)(g). Second, section 7.8 of the Trust appears to permit the Trust to avoid reimbursing Medicaid if the remainder beneficiaries agree to forego any distributions from the Trust. This provision is inconsistent with POMS SI 01120.203(B)(2)(g), which requires that, aside from certain allowable expenses, any amounts in the IBA not retained by the Trust must be used to reimburse the State for Medicaid.”

The language of the decision and the conversations with the national office in Baltimore are consistent. This is a problem to be aware of.

So what’s one to do? First, consider amending the language of the pooled trust so that it is consistent with the principles in this RCC Precedent, or at a minimum, is silent on what the pooled trust intends to do with any retained assets. There is nothing in the statute or existing POMS that requires that there be a statement that describes what happens to retained assets. There is nothing in the national POMS 8-step Action Checklist for SSA staff reviewing pooled SNTs that would lead the staff to question the retained asset provisions in a pooled trust.

Secondly, or perhaps, most importantly, do not let the time deadlines to appeal adverse decisions pass. The SSA procedure here is that some client member/beneficiary of the pooled trust will receive a Notice of Planned Action and then a Determination that the funds in their pooled trust account are “countable resources” and SSA is terminating the client’s SSI benefits effective “X” date, including retroactively back “X” number of years. The client has to act quickly and file a “Request for Reconsideration” checking the box in the middle of the form that indicates that they want a Formal Conference. The time limit is 65 days from the date of the SSA determination. If the client appeals within 10 days, SSA may continue their benefits pending the Reconsideration determination. If the Reconsideration is denied, the client can file a Request for Hearing before an SSA Administrative Law Judge – again, within the time limits stated above.

The “guidance” from national SSA is not based, in my opinion, on the d4C pooled trust statutory language. Congress did not limit how the retained funds could be spent, and did not clearly define whether the funds belonged to the sponsoring non-profit, or must stay in the trust for the benefit of other current members of the pooled trust. The argument that SSA is acting outside its authority is not a slam-dunk, however, because other parts of the Social Security Act give the Commissioner of Social Security extremely broad powers to carry out the purposes of the Act without specific or detailed direction from Congress.

If the ALJ hearing is lost, there is an appeal on the record to the Appeals Council in Falls Church, Virginia, and if denied there, to the U.S. District Court, Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.

Our office would be interested in representing claimants on this issue anywhere in the country, or in assisting local counsel in other states who wish to challenge SSA’s new “guidance” on retained funds. Contact us at 727-330-7895 or David@LillesandLaw.com or Jessica@LillesandLaw.com.

David and Jessica Lillesand

Congratulations and a  big thank you to our Florida Congressmen, Ander Crenshaw and Kendrick Meek, who have introduced legislation to allow families to plan for their loved ones with some significant tax saings.   Information on the bill follows.  To see the bill in its entirety, click on H.R. 1205.

Disability Savings Accounts

The bipartisan Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2009 (ABLE Act), H.R.1205/S. 493, was introduced in both the House and Senate on February 26.  The bills would allow individuals and families to establish special accounts for meeting the future needs of children and adults with disabilities.  Funds in the accounts and expenditures which meet the requirements of the bills would not affect the individuals’ eligibility for federal benefits.  Using these accounts, parents would be able to save funds for a child’s future in a manner similar to the special "529 accounts" currently used to save for a child’s future educational expenses.  The House bill was introduced by Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) along with Representatives Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), and Kendrick Meek (D-FL).  The Senate bill was introduced by Senator Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA) along with Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS), Richard Burr (R-NC), Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Edward Kennedy (D-MA).  The bills were referred to the House Ways and Means and the Energy and Commerce Committees and to the Senate Finance Committee.  The Arc and UCP worked with the sponsors and with other supporting organizations on development of the bills.

Special Needs Trusts in Florida and around the nation will be impacted by the new POMS on Special Needs Trusts issued in January.  The March meeting of the Academy of Special Needs Planners will have top experts discussing the changes, and other important information on Special Needs Trusts.  If you are an attorney, plan to attend.  You can register at the Academy’s website, http://www.specialneedsplanners.com/

The Social Security Administration published new POMS, the staff operating manual, on Special Needs Trusts.  As Chair fo the Special Needs Trust Committee of the Florida Bar’s Elder Law Section, I have set a meeting to review the new POMS in detail for March 19th, in Tampa.

Here’s a "CLEAN COPY" of the new 2009 POMS on Trusts.

I also prepared a word-by-word analysis of the 2009 changes from the original 2001 POMS.  Deletions are indicated by striking through the word, and additions by underlining.  See "THE CHANGES HERE."  See also the  5 PAGE MEMORANDUM that highlights the changes.

Generally, the POMS are claimant friendly, although attorneys who do not follow them closely, can cause some significant problems for their clients.  The new POMS specifically approve of child support Special Needs Trusts and Alimony Special Needs Trusts, which will go a long way in ehlping to resolve family law disputes where continued health insurance is an issue.

The Social Security Administration (SSA)  has provided attorneys and the general public with very useful information on their analysis of Special Needs Trusts – are you eligible or ineligible if you have such a trust.  There are a lot of ways that attorneys can inadvertently cause a Special Needs Trust to be found in violation of the many SSI resource rules.  While Special Needs Trusts are perfectly legal and will keep SSI benefits for disabled persons, simple drafting errors by attorneys can result in loss of SSI and Medicaid health insurance.

Fortunately, SSA is trying to help clients stay eligible by educating the public and attorneys.

Unfortunately, although the Regional Chief Counsel opinion letters, called "Precedents" in SSI-speak, are availabe as a category on the Internet in the POMS, they are poorly organized and not indexed.

The good news:  attached is a LENGTHY ANALSYS OF THE RCC OPINION LETTERS issued between 2006 through 2008, with a table that summarizes the issues and the holding, and an 18 page explanatory text of the "Top Ten Things Learned by Reviewing RCC Opinion Letters" and a 6 page chart, as well as the RCC opinion letters themselves.  The total package is 176 pages. 

The new 2008 Deeming Chart should be used by banks and other Special Needs Trust Administrators judiciously.  Pay particular attention to the qualifications indicating when the trust may not be used, which appear at the end of the chart.  Also be aware that these numbers increase annually, but a slight amount, due to changes in the SSI Federal Benefit Rate.

However, the chart is definitely useful to indicate approximately how much a parent could be paid, for example, for disabled child caretaking, to stay within the deemed amount that will not eliminate a child’s SSI disability benefits.  In 31 U.S. states and jurisdictions, receipt fo $1 of SSI triggers automatic eligibility for state Medicaid benefits.