Applying for Essential Government Benefits
Proving that your loved one qualifies for disability benefits can be a protracted and frustrating process filled with bureaucratic roadblocks. Since your loved one often cannot complete the application themselves, a family member will need to help them move through the process.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal government program that extends benefits to disabled individuals with low incomes. Your loved one with special needs will presumably be “low income” by default if they are unable to work. You will also need to prove that your loved one’s condition qualifies as an eligible disability.
The SSI application process can be extremely confusing. Stalled and rejected applications can be common, and in these situations, you may need experienced legal assistance in mounting an effective appeal and review. Our Raleigh special needs attorney can guide you and your loved one through the application process and can work to resolve any obstacles that you might encounter to receiving your benefits.
The contradictory reality is that public disability benefits rarely provide enough for an individual to live on, meaning additional support will be necessary. However, it is important to understand that qualifying for SSI and other programs means not exceeding certain income or asset valuation thresholds. This means that directly supporting your loved one with special needs, either through direct financial payments or the providing of assets, can result in their ineligibility and loss of benefits. As a result, targeted estate planning tools are required to avoid endangering government disability support.
Special Needs Trusts
Some parents choose to leave a disabled child out of their estate plans when they learn that leaving them inheritances could result in their losing benefits. This scenario typically results in the bulk of assets instead being left for siblings or other family members with the expectation that they find a way to care for their special needs loved one. While it is true that you avoid leaving direct inheritances to those receiving disability benefits, there are effective means of caring for your loved one through your estate plan without jeopardizing their program eligibility.
Special needs trusts can facilitate the support that your loved one will need in addition to public disability benefits. Families of a loved one with special needs can place an unlimited number of assets into a third-party special needs trust that works to cover the needs and expenses beyond what government benefits can accommodate. First-party special needs trusts can also be used to collect any inheritances or settlements that the loved one with special needs.
SSI and other programs have rule exceptions that specifically allow these types of special needs trusts. We can work with your family to determine what type of support your loved one requires and make recommendations about what special needs trusts can safely support their care.
Guardianships for Loved Ones with Special Needs
Typically, when a child becomes a legal adult by turning 18, they assume full responsibility over the decisions governing their life. This includes making choices about where to live and how to make a living. Adults with special needs may not have the physical or mental competency to adequately make these decisions. In these situations, a guardianship may be necessary.
Guardianships come in two forms. A guardian of the person has responsibility over an individual’s health, safety, and general wellbeing. This includes the ability to make decisions about a person’s medical care, food, and housing. A guardian of the property handles financial affairs, including the management of any property or assets, including government benefits.
In many cases, a person granted a guardianship for a loved one with special needs serves as both a guardian of the person and a guardian of the property. They have a responsibility to take care of the person on a day-to-day basis as well as manage their financial security.
Obtaining a guardianship through a court can be a challenging process, in part due to the amount of authority that is conferred. The court will need to be convinced that the individual with special needs cannot adequately manage their affairs without outside assistance. Courts also generally prefer that only close family members, like a parent or sibling, serve as a guardian in these situations.
Our team can help assess whether a guardianship makes sense for your situation and strategize on the most effective means of pursuing the designation from the appropriate court. We understand how these types of cases are adjudicated and will do everything possible to get you the legal authority that you need to help your loved one.