Monthly Archives: June 2014

June 11, 2014

Special Needs a Trusts: Ensuring the Future of Your Autistic Family Member or Child

By Shannon King Nash, Esq.

Jane and Mark Ramsey are an average family1. They have two kids – Jennifer age 12 and Jimmy age 3. Their assets include a house valued at $200,000 (but with no equity), two cars together worth $15,000 and a $100,000 life insurance policy. Jane and Mark have a combined gross income of $100,000. They also have 401k plans and stock worth $35,000. Recently, they learned that Jimmy has autism. Since they aren’t rich, they don’t think they need sophisticated estate planning vehicles like special needs trusts, right?

The Ramey’s need to think again. Every parent of a developmentally challenged child needs to invest in careful planning to protect their child’s future. The less the family has, the more tragic are the consequences of a failure to plan.

What’s the Big Deal?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is the federal needs-based program that many disabled children and adults may be eligible for if they meet certain income limits. SSI beneficiaries may also get Medicaid (medical assistance) to pay for hospital stays, doctor bills, prescription drugs, and other health costs. However, once a person’s income exceeds $2,000 a year, they are no longer eligible for SSI or Medicaid.

Over $13 billion is spent annually to care for individuals with autism. For the average affected family this translates into $30,000 per year. Many parents believe that needs-based programs like SSI and Medicaid will take care of their child when they are gone. This is a common misconception.

Take our family the Ramseys. Jimmy’s inheritance will have to be completely spent before he’s eligible for the needs-based programs. With Jimmy’s half of his parent’s estate (about $75,000), he will be forced to spend all but $2,000 of his inheritance before he becomes eligible for a single dollar of assistance. And he may be forced to spend most of this on health care expenses. At this rate, Jimmy will have exhausted his inheritance in less than three years. So much for the nest egg that the Ramsey’s had hoped to leave.

Even families who believe their child won’t need government assistance (for example, a family with a million dollars in assets) this could still be a problem. Their child will probably not be able to qualify for private health insurance after the parents are gone and perhaps before depending on their employer’s health insurance policy. Medicaid might be the only way for their child to get needed health care services. But this child will not qualify for Medicaid because of his huge inheritance. With people living longer and the costs for care of autistic people increasing, this huge inheritance will likely be completely spent long before the parents had hoped – leaving the child to spend his later days in poverty.

1The Ramsey’s are a fictional couple and are being used to illustrate some of the points in estate planning for special needs children.

The Money Issue

Although there is no bright line rule for when a parent needs a special needs trust, many families should have one. Special needs trusts are probably not necessary for parents living at the poverty level, which was $18,100 for a family of four in 2002. These families are already on government assistance and the kids will continue on this assistance even after their parents’ death.

But for the majority of American families – those earning about $65,000 a year for a family of four – a special needs trust is crucial. These families typically have very little in tangible assets, second mortgages on their homes, and little to no savings (likely due to paying for costly therapies). But even though they not wealthy, their children aren’t used to relying on government assistance. And they often have life insurance (mostly term life insurance or employer provided), which may be valuable. Estate planning vehicles like special needs trusts can ensure that this life insurance will in fact be available to retain their child’s quality of life.

Special Needs Trust

A special needs trust is a vehicle that provides assets from which a disabled child can maintain his quality of life, while still remaining eligible for needs-based programs that will cover basic health and living expenses. Here’s how it works: the Ramsey’s create a special needs trust to benefit Jimmy that provides instructions as to the level of care they want for him. They also create a will that leaves certain assets to the special needs trust – no assets are left directly to Jimmy. After they are gone, the people they have chosen to manage the trust (trustees) can spend money on certain defined expenses for Jimmy’s benefit without compromising his eligibility for needs-based programs.

In general, basic living expenses such as food and shelter may not be provided for through the special needs trust. But essential quality of life expenses such as clothing, vocational training, facilitative technologies and travel (both around town and long distance) may be provided. Certain health care expenses that are related to the person’s disability (occupational therapy, speech therapy, etc) may also be provided for by the trust. However, more universal health care expenses such as nonprescription vitamins and antibiotics may not be provided. Parameters vary from state to state so parents should check with a qualified attorney in their state. (See Side Bar for questions to ask a prospective attorney and information on how to find an attorney in your area).

Crucial choices you will need to make in establishing a special needs trust include:

Trustee
The trustee can be a family member or close friend who knows your child and who is organized, financially savvy and above all ethical. Some families opt for a professional trustee (usually working for banks or financial institutions). Whatever the choice, it’s crucial for the trustee to understand the expenses that can and can’t be provided for under the special needs trust.

Purpose of the Trust
This provision should enumerate all of the reasons for establishing the trust and might include the following issues:
· Where should the child live? (i.e., a group home vs. assisted living at home)
· What specific social activities should be supported by the trust? (e.g. special Olympics, choir, religion)
· What specific technologies or treatments should the child have access to?
· With whom should the child have regular contact facilitated by the trust? (e.g. plane tickets and other travel arrangements)

Revocable
Special needs trusts may be completely revocable (altered) at any time. But there are disadvantages to revocability. Revocable trusts can create higher taxes at death since they are included in the parents’ gross estate for purposes of the estate tax. Also revocable trusts can create a problem should circumstances change, like one parent dies and the new spouse wants to change the terms of the special needs trust. One solution might be to make the trust irrevocable when formed such that it cannot be changed. But parents should consider putting an “irrevocability trigger provision” into the revocable trust. Basically, the irrevocability trigger kicks in when the change occurs – such as death of a parent, divorce, or when the trust’s assets reach an amount that is likely to cause a huge estate tax burden.

Others Estate Planning Vehicles

Special needs trusts work best with an integrated estate plan. A will or similar vehicle that directs which funds will go into the special needs trusts is essential. But make sure to understand how the special needs trusts works with the will. A “stand-alone special needs trust” is created during the parents’ lives and can be funded by the parents though provisions in their will. Also other family members like grandparents may make contributions to this trust. However,
if the special needs trust is contained inside the parent’s will, known as a “testamentary trust”, it doesn’t actually exist until the parent dies. In that case, only the parents or those who die after them can fund this trust.

In addition to a trustee who manages the financial aspects under the special needs trust, the parents should also consider appointing a guardian who will manage the day to day care of their child. Although they can be the same person, parents should include as many loving people as possible in caring for their child with autism.

Finally, a letter of intent or a life plan that details the parents’ wishes for their child may be helpful. While these life plans are very useful in keeping the child’s care as close as possible to normal, they are not legal documents. In fact, they do not have to be followed by the child’s new guardian. But because life plans provide very valuable detailed information, they are often used in conjunction with other estate planning vehicles.

Recap
Whatever estate planning vehicle(s) is used, it is important to set up something before it is too late. With only a few hours of careful planning, the Ramseys have ensured that Jimmy will be able to maintain his quality of life after they are gone.
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The author would like to thank estate planning attorney Diedre Wachbrit, who served as an expert resource for this article.
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SIDEBAR:
The following resources provide additional helpful information on special needs trusts.

Websites
www.ssa.gov/notices/supplemental-security-income — This website has a wealth of information on SSI including an online program called the Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool that determines if your child is eligible for SSI.

www.metlife.com – MetLife provides general information on planning for your special needs child including wills and special needs trusts (search special needs trusts on the website’s search engine).

www.wachbrit.com – Estate Planning Attorney Diedre Wachbrit provides more detail on the common issues involved with special needs planning and materials used in connection with a parent training seminar on special needs trusts.

www.amgtrust.com – American Guaranty & Trust Company has a sample special need trust agreement and sample memorandum on common issues to focus on when drafting a special needs trust.

www.specialneedsplanning.com – Special Needs Planning has articles on special needs financial planning and sample letters of intent.

Organizations
The Association for Retarded Citizens – This organization has articles and an excellent booklet called “The Arc’s Future Planning Resources.” This booklet may be obtained on line at thearc.org, by calling 301/565-3842 or writing with $2 postage to The ARC, National Headquarters,1010 Wayne Ave. Suite 650, Silver Spring, MD 20910.

National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY) – This organization has great articles on special needs estate planning and a worksheet for costing out the total expenses of a person with a disability. Visit their website at www.nichcy.org. (search their publications for “estate planning” and find their great 20 page guide “Estate Planning ND18”)

Attorneys
www.naela.com – National Association of Elder Law Attorneys is a good place to start for a list of attorneys who are knowledgeable with special needs trusts.

www.wealthcounsel.com – Wealth Counsel LLC is a consortium of knowledgeable estate planning attorneys with a database that can be searched by state and by typing in special needs.

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SIDEBAR
Choosing a Professional

Many attorneys claim to do special needs trusts when in fact they simply add a sentence or a few provisions to a regular trust – so finding a specialist is key. But an attorney need not break the bank. A special needs trusts may cost between $1,000 – $2,000, with many attorneys offering payment plans. Of course the cost may vary by state and by complexity of the estate plan.
California, Estate Planning Attorney Diedre Wachbrit suggests asking prospective attorneys the following questions:

1. How did you get into this practice area?
Look for a real commitment to helping folks with special needs.

2. How long are your special needs trusts?
Yes, length does matter. A special needs trust averages 40 pages at a minimum.

3. Do you recommend a stand-alone or a testamentary special needs trust?
An attorney knowledgeable in this area will almost always recommend a stand-alone trust because this allows other family members to contribute in their own estate plans directly to the trust. An inexperienced attorney will probably recommend a testamentary trust (a trust that comes into existence when the parents die) because it’s easier for the attorney to draft.

4. Should I disinherit my child?
A knowledgeable attorney should resoundingly tell you no! Some believe that if they disinherit the child and ask a relative or friend to continue the child’s care, the child will be eligible for needs-based programs (SSI and Medicaid) and they have accomplished the same thing as a special needs trust. But the best intentions may still leave the autistic child without a consistent quality of life – especially if the relative or friend has financial difficulties, divorces or even worse, dies.

5. How many special needs trusts do I need?
For families with multiple special needs children this is often an issue. A single trust may give more flexibility but separate trusts may be necessary when one child’s disability is more severe than the others and that child is likely to drain the funds quickly. Since each family will have unique circumstances, a knowledgeable attorney should be able to walk you through all of the pros and cons.

6. What is a pay-back provision and do I need one?
A pay-back provision provides that the special needs trust will reimburse the state for expenses (i.e., health care costs under Medicaid) after the child’s death. These provisions are not required in all special needs trusts and a knowledgeable attorney should know this. In fact, it is primarily necessary where the special needs trust is funded with assets from the child-a common scenario where a special needs trust is formed for a child involved in a personal injury accident. But for children with developmental disabilities, the special needs trust is established with assets from the parents and other family members.

7. Will you help us explain this to our family members?
A committed attorney will at least offer a client-friendly article or brochure on how special needs trusts work and how other family members can contribute to it. This ideal attorney will also be available to answer questions from family members and/or their attorneys about coordinating their estate plans with the trust.

8. Once the special needs trust is established, is there anything else we need to do?
A knowledgeable attorney should not only help establish the special needs trusts, but should also give guidance as to when or how often the trust may need to be updated. Whether dealing with a revocable or an irrevocable special needs trust, all newly acquired assets, such as new life insurance policies, should be added to the special needs trust.

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BIO
Shannon Nash is the proud mother of a lovely 4 year-old autistic boy. She volunteers her time with several special needs and autism nonprofits and is a director on the board of the United Autism Alliance, a Los Angeles based national autism advocacy nonprofit. She will be chairing an 8-week advocacy program for parents of special needs children on Family Life and Financial Planning sponsored by Pause 4 Kids, a Thousand Oaks Ca education nonprofit – these materials will be available on line at http://www.wachbrit.com. She we also be presenting a seminar on Special Needs Trusts at the California TASH 20th Annual Conference.

Shannon is a tax attorney and CPA. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law. She is currently writing a handbook for special needs parents on various issues including special needs trusts. She lives in Westlake Village, CA, with her son, husband and Chocolate Labrador Retriever. Shannon may be reached at skingnash@hotmail.com.

“Reprinted with permission from the March-April 2003 issue of the Autism Asperger’s Digest, a bimonthly 52 page magazine devoted to autism spectrum disorders. Published by Future Horizons, Inc. For more information: www.autismdigest.com or call 800.489.0727.”
Articles >> Special Needs Trusts

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June 10, 2014

Discovering Faith

For those of you ready to take your own unconventional leap of faith but are scared out of your mind, here are some words of wisdom that I have come to realize along the way. May they support you in taking your own path of joyful courage.

1. Listen to the voice in your head and trust your heart

Your inner voice has some very important things to say, and more evolved version of yourself

In a society where we tend to look to outsiders for advice, we tend to ignore our inner-voice. When you have a gut instinct about something, trust it and follow it. It was my inner-voice that finally spoke up. That inner voice that was also finally heard. Trusting in speaking up embraced the acknowledgement of what was needed for recognition in my life that was real and true, and when that occurred, everything changed miraculously. It’s easy to say and often hard to do. And I consciously dug my feet in deep and trusted someone finally would pay attention and hear, really hear and see, know and understand – It happened. And everything changed. My truth heard and my inner voice liberated –What big bold move is your inner-voice telling you to take?

2. Practice daily self-care.

When we take the road less travelled, it can be stressful which is why it’s so important to stop, breathe and nourish your body and soul in whatever way works for you. Give yourself a detox bath, do some restorative yoga, massage, napping, practice meditation or go for a long walk in nature.

3. Replace fear of the unknown with a sense of desire for what’s to come.

Being in the unknown can be scary, try to replace your fear with desire for the passion you are pursuing! Trust in the change. Take 5-10 minutes every day and visualize it. What does it look like? What does it feel like? Who is around you? When you can stay in that beautiful energetic state that is desire, you are more likely to cultivate your passion with ease.

4. Let yourself be supported by likeminded people. Find a community of people who are taking a similar leap of faith. Or that support yours. Even if it is one person that liberates you with support. That one person is priceless compared to a community of those who are anything other than positive

5. Avoid comparing yourself to others around you.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in timelines and compare yourself to what your peers have already cultivated. Everyone has their own respective journey of what they’re manifesting in life. Focus on your desires, and trust that if you pay attention to what you want, it will happen exactly as it’s supposed to. And trust yourself to follow your intuition regardless to opposition of or from another. They are not you, nor in your shoes. Be your own decision maker. And see the authentic path open to you effortlessly.

6. Celebrate what’s you’ve manifested to date.

I equate the pursuit of one’s passion to a treasure hunt. What clues, synchronistic patterns, and numbers will show up to guide the way. The path is never clearly laid out, but we get clues along the way that give us assurance that we’re not out-of-our-minds for pursuing our dreams. Celebrate your clues, ( what they are for you and in what form they are revealed to you ) celebrate what you cultivate along the way and use it as a reminder to not give up when the end result isn’t happening as quickly as you may want it to. Eventually what you need will flow in your direction.

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June 9, 2014

Moldavite and Sugulite Elevate Autism

Alternative Energetic Healing through the use of crystals can be used to ease the traits of autism and Asperger’s syndrome.
Crystals are a powerful way to heal a range of ailments including some of the traits of autism and Asperger’s syndrome.

The crystals have been formed over many millions of years and have unique physical properties that emit strong vibrations and energies. These have effects on the aura and energy fields of humans. They align specifically with different frequencies of the crystalline vibration in the cosmos and emit radiant healing energies on different frequencies depending on the origin of third source vibration. They can help to energize and rejuvenate cells in the body and provide deep healing to the mind, spirit and soul. This makes crystals excellent for children and adults with autism and asperger’s syndrome.

The bright colours of crystals mean that they are fun to look at and often people with an autism spectrum disorder will like to be hands on, and feel the texture of the crystals. This helps to bring autistic people back into the physical word and out of their inner world.

Crystals are powerful healers for many conditions, including autism. This could be that their powerful energies help to balance those with mind conditions such as autism.
Along with the suggestion from those that believe autism is triggered by toxic exposure in susceptible children/adults is that crystals can counteract this.

Whatever ths possible explanations, it’s clear that crystals have beneficial effects upon the minds and bodies of those who come into contact with them, and even more so with those people who really ‘tune’ into the crystals by focusing their energy and concentration on them.

Two of the most popular crystals for people with an autism spectrum disorder are moldavite and Sugulite.
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Moldavite

Moldavite is one of the rarest crystals on the planet and occurs in an black, green or olive. It is a high frequency stone for transformation that is great for very sensitive people who struggle with being on earth. The crystals eases autism, epilepsy, brain imbalances and malfunctions.

Moldavite is said to have been formed by a meteor from outer space. It has numerous healing qualities for autism and bridges connect to the wider universe.
The stone has emerged as one of the healing crystals most prized by metaphysical users, and hundreds of stories about its transformational properties have been told. It has been credited with innumerable powerful life changes. It can also assist to treat emotional distresses such as loneliness, panic and anxiety that can accompany autism.

Autism facts

Autism spectrum disorders begin from birth. Autistic children and adults with typically have reduced social skills, low communication, isolation, and often exhibit repetitive behavior.

Autistic people often insists on having routine and are arverse to sudden changes.

The severity of autism in differing people can range from severe, where sufferers may need assistance in most areas of there life, to mild, where people live fully functioning lives.

Many people with Asperger’s syndrom excell academically, and there could be few outward signs that they have an autism spectrum disorder.

Recent estimates suggest that as many as six people in every 1,000 have a form of autism.

Sometimes people can be given therapy to help them with their behaviour and speech, while many develop their own ways of coping as they become older.

To get the benefits of Moldavite, place it on the third-eye chakra or the crown chakra – or even both.

The common wisdom is that Moldavite crystal is a catalyst for inner evolution towards one’s highest good. The changes it brings can be intense and rapid, but they are, by all accounts, significant and valuable to the individual.

The healing can occur in the physical body, one’s chakra system, one’s dream life, one’s awareness of healing spirit guides and other aspects of the spiritual dimensions, one’s career, one’s relationships and just about any other dimension of life where crystal healing can be useful.

The origin of Moldavite is still under discussion, thought by many to be purely extraterrestrial; a meteorite that has fallen to earth because of its chemical composition, yet others state the mineral is the result of fusion between a meteorite and the earth upon impact to specific earthbound mineral deposits, either way the mineral is at least partly due to extraterrestrial origin.

Moldavite’s ‘outer space’ qualities can affect the consciousness of those who connect with it, and in the cases of autistic people, they may become fascinated with the crystal’s palpable mystery.

Chemical Composition varies but is mostly silica glass with impurities of magnesium, iron and other elements. There are known deposits in the Czech Republic and the surrounding area, yet other locations make claims to having deposits

Moldavite with hematite is a good combination for an autistic child because it facilitates both integration and grounding.

Sugilite

Sugilite is a rare, waxy, opaque, purple crystal. It is believed to be a very protective and nurturing stone, good for sensitive people who are affected by other people’s attitudes.

The crystal is also said to be beneficial for those who feel alienated and ‘out of place’ – as can happen with people with autism who have loneliness problems. Sugilite may encourage positive thoughts, release emotional turmoil, promote self forgiveness and encourage inspiration and feelings of confidence.

Sugilite is a good stone to aid the release of anger and rage and to help someone understand the deeper meaning of life’s struggles that are necessary for soul growth. Many autistic people have difficulty connecting with and expressing their emotions, and this crystal could help with that.

Sugilite can help to release emotions in people with autism
Sugilite helps sensitive people to ground themselves in the present and helps with learning difficulties. It’s an excellent stone to help those with autism and Asbergers syndrome by grounding them in the present moment, instead of them being in their head.

Sugilite is one of the major love stones and comes with a purple ray energy. It represents spiritual love and wisdom and opens all chakras to the flow of that love, bringing them into alignment.

Sugilite inspires spiritual awareness and promotes channeling ability. Sugilite teaches how to live from your truth and reminds the souls of its reasons for incarnating.

The stone opens all the chakras and brings them to alignment. It can help bring answers to deep questions such as ‘Why am I here, what’s the point in life, Where did I come from or Who am I?’ The crystal helps sensitive people adapt.

This loving stone protects the soul from shocks, trauma and disappointments and relives spiritual tension. Sugilite can also help to bring light and love into difficult situations

Sugilite is a great crystal when applied to relationships of all kinds.

It can help ease insecurity, paranoia and it is even suggested that it can calm the minds of those with schizophrenia. Sugilite is a useful stone for work with groups as it resolves group difficulties and encourages loving communication. Many people with autism or asperger’s syndrome have difficulty with human relationships and communication.

Sugilite is said to help soothe headaches, discomfort, align the nerves and brain, subdue heart palpitations and soothe frayed nerves.
Sugilite’s ability to reduce negative energy can help to channel healing energy into the mind, body and spirit

Gold

Gold is perhaps the most precious metal on the planet. It can also be used to balance right/left brain conditions associated with autism. Healing uses for Gold include the treatment of blood, skin, neurological and heart disorders.

Gold is believed to to be an energy generator that can remove blockages to strengthen, amplify and conduct energy trhoughouts the body.

Gold has historically been used to treat nervous problems and anecdotal evidence links it to autism
In 2005, a report by The Age of Autism’s considered why gold had such healing properties after a child diagnosed with the condition improved after treatment with gold salts.

Some people suggested that gold can alleviate autism where it may have been triggered by some sort of toxic exposure in susceptible children, such as through mercury in vaccines.

This idea was also suggested in a report in 2002 by the Meridian Institute. The paper was called ‘Gold and Its Relationship to Neurological/Glandular Conditions.’

June 7, 2014

Thoughts

Often I am asked what interests me. Aside from the multidimensional elements of my reality and nature of what is in resonance with me. I tend to be drawn to evolved conscious aspects in ways a of subjects relating to expanded extensions of being, speaking, and all that revolves around higher living in humanity and intelligent allegiance. I love the cosmos and everything about the stars and the brilliance of the universe. The interconnection we have to the grand solar spread of information of the matrix of our existence. A favorite visionary artist of mine, Alex Grey, his brilliancy depicts amazing and accurate details of the energy intertwined within human life. They are portrayals of human beings blend anatomical exactitude with visionary depictions of universal life energy. Alex Grey’s striking artwork leads us on the soul’s journey from material world encasement to recovery of the divinely illuminated core. He is by far a favorite

June 6, 2014

Benefits Of Fitness For Autism

Acknowledging for children living with autism, that fitness and exercise are both essential and challenging. About two-thirds of teens with autism spectrum disorder are either overweight or obese, according to research reported in Finding Balance: Obesity and Children with Special Needs, published in 2011 by AbilityPath.org, an online special needs community. The report’s authors analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and also interviewed medical professionals and parents of children and teens with special needs. Another research study published in 2010 found that “adolescents with autism and Down syndrome were two to three times more likely to be obese than adolescents in the general population.”

Children with autism may find fitness and physical activity difficult. Oversensitivity to sights, sounds, and tactile stimuli can affect participation, as can limits or delays in motor coordination, processing and planning.

Even in the face of these challenges, it’s important to find ways to help kids with autism try and even enjoy fitness. Exercise can prevent or reverse weight gain, and has therapeutic benefits too. Depending on the program and type of physical activity, participation can help with sensory integration, coordination and muscle tone, and social skills.

Different forms of exercise benefit kids with autism in specific ways. Aerobic exercise may help decrease harmful self-stimulating behavior, and delivers the same health boosts as it does for neurotypical kids and adults: weight loss and heart health. Exercise that improves flexibility can help address problems associated with low muscle tone. Strength training can build a child’s core muscles, which will in turn help with balance and coordination.

Once you’ve identified some possibilities, determine if the fit is right for your child. Attentively make sure the coach is trained to work with kids with autism. Teaching should emphasize social skills along with physical ones, and coaches and staff should be patient and prepared to provide routine and repetition.