STABLE Accounts and Special Needs Trusts

Disabled Individuals – Saving for Retirement

 

In 2014, Congress passed the federal Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. The Act made an ABLE Account possible. An ABLE Account is an investment account that permits qualified persons with disabilities to save and invest money without losing eligibility for certain public benefits. These public benefits are generally needs-based programs such as Medicaid and SSI (Supplemental Security Income).

On June 1, 2016, Ohio became the first state to begin an ABLE program. The program is administered by the State of Ohio Treasurer’s Office and became known as the STABLE Account. Prior to the STABLE Account, those with disabilities could save no more than $2,000 before losing needs-based benefits.

With a STABLE Account, an individual with disabilities could save and invest (with Vanguard) up to $15,000 per year, $27,490 if the individual works. The money in a STABLE Account must be spent on Qualified Disability Expenses, including: housing, education, healthcare, transportation, basic living expenses, etc. As long as the money in the Account is spent on these expenses, earnings on the Account grow tax-free. The money in a STABLE Account is not considered a resource for Medicaid or SSI purposes; therefore, the STABLE Account will not prevent an individual from pursuing those benefits.

An individual is eligible for a STABLE Account if their disability began before the age of 26 and the individual must have lived with the disability for one year or expect the disability to last for at least one year. In addition, the individual must be eligible for SSI or SSDI (Social Security Disability Income which is not a means-tested benefit) or have a condition on the Social Security Administration’s list of allowable conditions or “self-certify” their disability.

A STABLE Card, a loadable debit card acceptable wherever VISA is accepted, can be given to the individual with disabilities to be used for Qualified Disability Expenses. There is no cost to open a STABLE Account and can be opened by an individual with disabilities, or an Authorized Legal Representative (ALR) such as a parent, a guardian of the individual, or a designated Power of Attorney.

There are negative aspects of a STABLE Account. While STABLE Accounts appear to be an excellent resource for someone who is eligible, there are some limitations.

If the account exceeds $100,000, the individual’s SSI benefit, but not Medicaid, would be suspended but not terminated until the account is reduced to $100,000. This could affect planning for the individual in case of an inheritance of more than $100,000.

The maximum that a STABLE Account can hold is $482,000 (similar to a 529 Account). Again, this may affect an individual’s inheritance.

Excess contributions to a STABLE Account must be returned to the contributor to avoid a 6% penalty.

Individuals who may have these financial issues, should consider establishing a Self-Settled (“First Party”) Special Needs Trust, known as a (d)(4)(A) Trust. Previously, individuals were not permitted to establish such a Trust for themselves; however, such individuals are now permitted to establish such Trusts for themselves.

There is no limit as to how much a person can have in this Trust. The money in the Trust is not considered a resource and does not affect the individual’s Medicaid or SSI.

As the STABLE Account permits broader payments for expenses, more so than the Trust permits, many people establish this account and the Trust simultaneously.

Upon the passing of the individual, the money in a STABLE Account and the Special Needs Trust, after certain permitted payments, must be paid to the State under the Medicaid Estate Recovery Program to re-pay the State for the amount of Medicaid benefits received by the individual during their lifetime; however, the STABLE Account is obligated to pay the State for Medicaid benefits paid subsequent to the establishment of the STABLE Account.

If you have any questions about your special needs, estate planning or elder law issues in general, please contact Joseph P. Mattera at 937-223-1130 or jmattera@pselaw.com.

AUTHOR: Joseph Mattera
jmattera@pselaw.com