Millions of children and adults with special needs depend on government benefits programs like Supplemental Security Income (SSI). In fact, more than eight million people with special needs under the age of 65 receive SSI, the Social Security Administration has reported — that’s a big portion of the total U.S. population.

planning options for special needs

Tragically, poverty and disability are closely intertwined. People with special needs are twice as likely to live in poverty than people without disabilities, NPR noted in 2015, often because people with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed. Only one in seven adults with special needs are employed, and the numbers aren’t improving.

Saving money is also a challenge. If people with government assistance programs save just a few thousand dollars, they could lose eligibility for benefits. That risk can be a strong disincentive to work, when a person with a disability must choose between employment or benefits. As Michael Morris, executive director of the National Disability Institute, notes in NPR’s article, many adults with special needs are consigned to poverty by the very way our nation’s social safety net is structured.

ABLE Accounts

Improvements are happening to the system, however. In 2014, President Obama signed the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) into law, which allows people with special needs and their families to open special savings accounts to help protect them from losing government benefits eligibility. ABLE accounts won’t be taxed and, in general, their assets won’t count toward means-tested assistance programs like SSI.

Opening an ABLE account will allow many families to begin saving money. In turn, the funds in their accounts could be used to purchase things — like accessible vehicles, for example — that can actually reduce their reliance on government assistance in the long-run.

Special Needs Trusts

The special needs trust was designed not to replace government benefits with personal savings, but to find a workable balance between the two.

Special needs trusts are most appropriate when a person is set to receive moderate to substantial sums of money, like a lawsuit settlement or inheritance. If that money goes directly into the person’s bank account, they’ll likely become ineligible for Medicaid and SSI. A special needs trust, on the other hand, keeps their benefits from being threatened by the influx of income.

Assets in the trust, which are managed and disbursed by a trustee, can be used to purchase goods and services that government benefits don’t cover. Beneficiaries can select their own trustees, or they can establish a pooled special needs trust, which allows them to “pool” their financial assets together. The money from multiple families or individuals is placed in a master trust, which is managed by experienced financial professionals at a non-profit. Still, each individual beneficiary holds his or her own account. In some cases, beneficiaries are paired with social workers or advisors to help them create a disbursement plan that matches their lifestyle.

By gathering assets together, pooled trusts can benefit from more innovative investment strategies, but often at a fraction of the cost of an individual trust. Pooled trusts may be particularly appropriate for people who don’t have someone else to establish an individual trust, since beneficiaries are allowed to start their own accounts.

Thankfully, times are changing (albeit slowly), and people with special needs are obtaining more options to help them plan for their futures. Smart planning is the key to long-term success, no matter the challenges you face. To learn more about your individual options, feel free to contact Milestone Consulting for more information.

 

ABOUT JOHN BAIR

John Bair is an experienced settlement planner and financial consultant. He helps families develop strategies to provide lifelong financial support for children with disabilities, catastrophic injuries, special needs, and congenital abnormalities. Read more about John’s work and his firm, Milestone Consulting, at http://milestoneseventh.com/.

 

For years, we have been watching the progress of the NFL concussion lawsuit, a landmark case that rocked the sports world. Now, the $1 billion settlement with retired NFL players is also raising questions about judicial power in regulating contracts between MDL plaintiffs and legal funding companies.

funding for NFL players in litigation

As an article in Reuters points out, there are many ways these companies can advance cash to plaintiffs who are expecting payouts in personal injury cases — recourse and non-recourse advances being two examples. No matter what a plaintiff chooses, the funding deal occurs outside the case as a private agreement between the funding company and the plaintiff.

“The industry was once almost entirely unregulated, but that’s changing,” the article notes. Several states have enacted laws regulating the advancing of cash to plaintiffs in one way or another. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has claimed authority over these companies and filed suits against two litigation finance businesses last year.

One of those suits involves New Jersey funder RD Legal, which has argued the Bureau should not have the power to regulate its transactions. Some of RD Legal’s clients are part of the NFL concussion lawsuit, to whom an RD subsidiary advanced a collective $1.63 million in exchange for rights to $3.43 million of the settlement recovery they expect to receive.

The NFL plaintiffs’ lawyers filed an amicus brief in the case against RD Legal, arguing that the funding company’s transactions with the plaintiffs breached a provision of the settlement agreement that prohibits plaintiffs from assigning an interest in their claims to outside funders. The provision was explicitly intended to stop litigation financiers from taking advantage of the retired players who suffer from cognitive injuries.

However, RD claims it has not violated the settlement agreement. The company says it did not acquire an interest in plaintiffs’ claims, but instead purchased an interest in plaintiffs’ settlement “proceeds,” which were not specifically addressed in the settlement agreement provision.

Reuters notes that of the MDLs currently on the federal court docket, the NFL concussion litigation will be the first to determine if MDL judges have the power to block third-party funders from making deals with individual plaintiffs. No doubt, this situation and others to come will continue the national debate over whether these agreements should be capped or otherwise controlled by our legislatures.

 

About John Bair

John Bair has guided thousands of plaintiffs through the settlement process. Motivated by a desire to assist others in protecting their financial well-being, John and his wife Amy established the Bairs Foundation. At seven percent simple interest, the organization provides the financial assistance families need during litigation. Read more at http://www.bairsfoundation.org/.

Like hundreds of other EndDD.org volunteers, I often beat the drum about the dangers of driving distracted. It’s a nationwide epidemic that kills and injures thousands of people every year.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the holidays are extra dangerous on the roads. More people are driving, but other factors contribute to the safety issues. We’re all also crazy-busy. We’ve got a mile-long mental to-do list before Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and the rest of the holidays arrive. The cold weather creates more hazardous road conditions. To compound the problem, we all have smartphones that incessantly alert us to retail sales, calendar invites, Facebook notifications, and more.

With the added distractions comes the need to be particularly vigilant as both drivers and passengers. Below are a few important tips to remember on every trip during the holiday season (and always).

distracted driving holiday graphicBuckle up: According to the CDC, seat belt use is the most effective way to save lives and reduce injuries in the event of a vehicle crash. Despite the substantial protection of seat belts, however, millions of people do not buckle up during every trip.

Drive sober or don’t drive at all: Drunk drivers put themselves and everyone else on the road in danger. It’s not enough to try to calculate your own blood-alcohol content. According to the NHTSA, the only way to be sure you’re not driving under the influence is to have a BAC of zero. Designate a sober driver ahead of time or make alternate transportation arrangements.

Drive without distraction: Your car will probably be packed with people (and maybe pets), home-cooked side dishes, and gifts. Your cell phone might be going off as friends and family members need directions or have last-minute questions. It’s tempting to try to multitask, but it only takes a second of inattention to cause a crash. Avoid all manual, cognitive and visual distractions until you’ve arrived at your destination.

As we all celebrate this joyous season with family and friends, remember to do your part to keep yourself, your family, and other motorists safe on the roads.

The point of investing is to earn a profit, and part of investment success is understanding how your investment profits are taxed. You know the IRS takes a share of your profit, but did you know you can cut the tax bill on your capital gains?

Your specific short-term capital gains tax rate depends on your income tax bracket – just like on your regular federal taxes. The brackets apply to your entire taxable income. The Motley Fool uses the current short-term capital gains tax rates as an example:

the current short-term capital gains tax rates

Naturally, you won’t be able to determine your exact capital gains tax rate until you know your total income for 2017.

Preserving More Profit by Avoiding High Short-Term Capital Gains

There are a few things you may be able to do to legally lower the rate you’ll need to pay.

  • If you invest in a tax-deferred account, you can typically buy and sell stocks without immediate tax consequences from gains or losses on their sale.
    If you hold an investment for longer than one year before selling, you can qualify for lower long-term capital gains rates.
    If you have investments on which you have lost money, selling them to generate short-term capital losses can allow you to offset gains.
    If you are an attorney, you may be a candidate to defer fees.

Dealing with short-term capital gains is a good problem to have – it means you made a profitable investment. Still, it makes sense to cut your tax bill when you can by making smart financial decisions and taking the right steps to avoid high short-term capital gains rates.

 

About John Bair

John Bair is co-founder of Milestone Consulting, LLC, a broad-based settlement planning and management firm. Milestone’s approach is comprehensive and future-focused. John’s team has guided thousands of clients by taking the time to understand the complexities of each case. They assess the best outcome and find the path that enables each client to manage their many needs. Read more about Milestone Consulting at http://milestoneseventh.com/.

All children deserve the benefits of a high-quality education, regardless of their personal challenges or needs. Legislators have written this right into federal law by passing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which guarantees every student with special needs has the right to a public education adapted to meet those needs.

post high school transition planning with IEP

IDEA covers more than just an academic education, however. There is also a provision for “transition services,” which lays a foundation for students with special needs to successfully move into post-high school life. According to federal law, transition services are a “coordinated set of activities designed to be within a results-oriented process that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities.”

Once children with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) turn 16, it’s time to start thinking about life after high school:

  • Educational and career goals,
  • Post-secondary academic opportunities,
  • Vocational programs
  • Community living,
  • Accessing helpful resources
  • Developing interpersonal skills, financial literacy and an understanding of healthy lifestyles, and more

As with every other consideration in an IEP, these transition goals should be identified based on a student’s individual strengths and weaknesses, along with the skills they’ve acquired during their lifetime. But perhaps most importantly, the student’s own preferences need to be placed at the core of any planning.

One of transition planning’s main goals is to help young adults understand themselves, their disabilities and the choices that will come to determine their futures. In fact, federal law requires teens attend their own IEP meetings beginning at age 16. If an IEP team thinks it’s appropriate, transition services can be folded into an IEP earlier than 16. Some states have even passed laws that entitle younger children to transition services. No matter when the planning begins, students must be invited to IEP meetings in which transition planning will be discussed.

Helping Students with Transition Planning

For many children, school is a place where they can begin developing skills for a healthy, happy life. Before graduation, however, teens (especially many of those with special needs) enter a period teeming with challenges and major life changes.

In a 2009 study, researchers at the University of North Carolina identified a number of factors that can help students transition successfully to their lives after high school. Here are six:

  1. Career awareness: Learning about different types of employment, applying for jobs, and exploring individual interests and skills to identify possible lines of work.
  2. Community experiences: Developing real-world employment skills through on-the- job training and age-appropriate integration with peers without special needs.
  3. Inclusion in general education: Learning alongside peers without special needs in a general education classroom has been linked to improvements in academic achievement, employment, and independent living.
  4. Self-advocacy: Teaching young adults to consider themselves the primary causal agents in their own lives, and helping them make their own choices free from undue external influences.
  5. Social skills: Helping young adults understand and honor social standards for interaction and how these standards can change in different contexts.
  6. Parental involvement: Young adults whose parents take an active role in the educational process have been found to benefit far beyond the classroom

For more information about what an IEP can do for your child, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s website here.

 

 

About John Bair

John Bair is an experienced settlement planner and financial consultant. He helps families develop strategies to provide lifelong financial support for children with disabilities, catastrophic injuries, special needs, and congenital abnormalities. Read more about John’s work and his firm, Milestone Consulting, at http://milestoneseventh.com/.

 

The year is wrapping up fast. Now is a great time for trial lawyers to consider year-end wealth management opportunities.

QSF planning for lawyers

One planning option in particular is an excellent tool many lawyers use to either accelerate or defer the receipt of settlement monies.  A qualified settlement fund (QSF) is a tax-qualified trust or account that holds settlement proceeds from litigation. It allows for more simplified and organized settlement administration. Both plaintiffs and their attorneys can reap the benefits of a QSF, and they work for all case types including tort, breach of contract, and others.

For one, this planning option gives everyone time to plan. A lawyer may want his or her fees right away, but the client needs to set up a trust. On the other hand, a client may want the funds right away and the lawyer could wait. These circumstances and others can be remedied by a QSF, which separates the business interest between the lawyer and client.

QSFs also allow for year-end tax planning for both the plaintiff and attorney. The taxable income can be spread over many years, and provide the potential for tax deferred growth.

Furthermore, by having a QSF established for year-end inventory of cases that may resolve, plaintiffs and their attorneys can serve a general release on the defendant as soon as the case settles, regardless of liens, hold backs, and other issues. All settlement issues that arise can be dealt with once the funds are received by the QSF administrator.

At Milestone Consulting, our experts find the best method to reach clients’ goals and meet government compliance. Planning-focused rather than product-oriented, we walk a client through the process to help them make the most informed decisions possible. Together, we develop the best course of action and guide our clients specific to their challenges. Contact Milestone today to learn more about QSFs and other planning options.

 

 

ABOUT JOHN BAIR

John Bair has guided thousands of plaintiffs through the settlement process as co-founder of Milestone Consulting, LLC, a broad-based settlement planning and management firm. Milestone’s approach is comprehensive and future-focused. John’s team has guided thousands of clients by taking the time to understand the complexities of each case. They assess the best outcome and find the path that enables each client to manage their many needs. Read more about Milestone Consulting at http://milestoneseventh.com/.

At the end of every year, we often take time to measure our successes, reward our staff and teams for the amazing work during the year. It is also time to make sure you are staying organized on your taxes, and considering all of your savings opportunities.

Being in business or running a lawfirm requires intense amounts of time and effort, take the time each year to consider the impact TAXES have on your long term growth and your personal balance sheet. Is all of your wealth tied up in your business?

Taking some risk off the table each year, and saving it for you and your family should be part of your success story.

attorney structured fees

 

See our Tax Guide here.

Settlement planning isn’t what it used to be. Over the past few decades, experts have moved far away from a one-size-fits-all approach to more customized solutions for each plaintiff. Various trusts, ABLE accounts, Medicare set-asides, and other options are combined with long-term plans to ensure a settlement recovery is as valuable as possible for as long as possible.

Comprehensive settlement planning firm

Since starting my career in the settlement planning industry in 1999 and then later co-founding Milestone Consulting, LLC, I have seen this evolution and have been a part of it. But the responsibility of comprehensive settlement management firms goes deeper than customizing plans using the tools available. Firms must also build a strong professional team that supports clients’ needs, builds relationships, and strengthens the business.

What does a great settlement planning team entail? Over the years, these qualifications are what I have found to be particularly beneficial.

Diverse academic and work history. Members of the team should not all come from financial or legal backgrounds. Including employees with marketing, customer service, non-profit, and other work experience can provide well-rounded talent and a variety of perspectives.

Gender diversity. I have found that companies with 50 percent or more women have an advantage over others that are primarily made up of men. The benefit isn’t having diversity for diversity’s sake — it’s in the empathy and compassion women tend to share more naturally.  

Trustworthiness. Settlement planning is less about sales in the legal space, and more about planning and connecting with clients to achieve their trust. A professional settlement planning team should have trustworthy and genuine employees who value integrity.

People trust their entire futures with their planning team. They need to know the people they rely on daily are highly qualified for the task. Clients also require the peace of mind that the team will collectively understand their needs and goals and will work hard to reach them. It’s a much deeper relationship than most people have with their investment advisors and CPAs.

Building a strong settlement planning team takes time. But once you have great members, the benefits are astounding for your business, and more importantly, your clients’ futures.

 

 

About John Bair

John Bair has guided thousands of plaintiffs through the settlement process as co-founder of Milestone Consulting, LLC, a broad-based settlement planning and management firm. Milestone’s approach is comprehensive and future-focused. John’s team has guided thousands of clients by taking the time to understand the complexities of each case. They assess the best outcome and find the path that enables each client to manage their many needs. Read more about Milestone Consulting at http://milestoneseventh.com/.

 

If you’re going to receive a settlement as the result of a catastrophic injury, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed. You may have questions about what to do with the money. Should you invest it? Should you put it in the bank? How will your government benefits be affected?

planning for settlement

First, it’s important to know the tax implications of receiving a settlement. As a taxpayer, any monetary award you receive is assumed to be gross income and is taxable. Fortunately, the Internal Revenue Code permits a taxpayer to avoid paying taxes on any settlement money (aside from punitive damages) received due to personal physical injuries or physical sickness. So, if the money you receive from a settlement is due to a physical injury, sickness, or wrongful death, you will not pay tax on your settlement when you initially receive it.

On the other hand, if you invest your settlement money into a traditional investment vehicle or financial institution, such as a local bank, the proceeds received from your interest bearing account are taxable to you.

Second, if you receive benefits from government programs to help with monthly income, medical services, and other expenses, you will need to comply with the programs’ rules to maintain eligibility. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid are examples of needs-based government programs, so your settlement award may adversely affect your eligibility.

Read more about complying with government benefits by setting up a trust or a Medicare set-aside.

With any settlement, the goal should be to ensure the proceeds are as beneficial as possible for as long as possible.  A comprehensive settlement planner can discuss your options with you and come up with a plan that meets your needs and financial goals for the future. If you’re about to receive a settlement, our team is available to answer any questions you have. Feel free to contact Milestone Consulting, LLC at 855-836-2676 or visit us at www.milestoneseventh.com.

 

About John Bair

John Bair has guided thousands of plaintiffs through the settlement process as co-founder of Milestone Consulting, LLC, a broad-based settlement planning and management firm. Milestone’s approach is comprehensive and future-focused. John’s team has guided thousands of clients by taking the time to understand the complexities of each case. They assess the best outcome and find the path that enables each client to manage their many needs. Read more about Milestone Consulting at http://milestoneseventh.com/.

ABLE accounts are about to become an even better option for people with disabilities, according to federal authorities at the Internal Revenue Service. On January 1, 2018, people with special needs will be able to contribute an annual total of $15,000 to the tax-advantaged savings accounts.

Structured to preserve eligibility for government benefits, ABLE accounts help thousands of people with disabilities save money every year. The previous annual limit on contributions was set at $14,000.

ABLE Accounts Increase To $15,000 Limit

ABLE accounts are currently offered through programs in 28 states, Disability Scoop reports. Most of these programs are open to out-of-state investors, so you don’t need to live in a state to apply for an account there. Created by the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE), a federal law passed in 2014, ABLE accounts allow people with disabilities to invest their savings without threatening means-tested government benefits.

Coins On Financial Statement

Programs like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are usually cut off when beneficiaries hold over $2,000 of “countable resources.” That includes both cash and assets that can easily be converted into cash, like stocks or bonds.

The problem with the current arrangement should be obvious. A staggering 2.2% of the American population currently receives SSI due primarily to a disability, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. For the vast majority of these recipients, government benefits are critical to sustaining a basic quality-of-life. At the same time, our nation’s welfare system actively discourages millions of people from saving for the future, by tying their necessary benefits to arbitrary resource limits.

ABLE Allows People With Disabilities To Save Money

ABLE accounts were designed to solve this problem, at least in part. Open an account through a state-managed program and you can invest money (usually up to $300,000) today. The first $100,000 deposited into an ABLE account aren’t counted as personal assets. As such, that money is completely separate from the eligibility determinations handed down for Medicaid, SSI or housing benefits.

Even better, any earnings made on the investments go untaxed, so long as money drawn from the account is used only to purchase “qualified disability expenses,” including medical care, job training programs, assistive devices and accessible transportation.

As it stands, federal law opens ABLE accounts up to anyone who became blind or developed an eligible disability before the age of 26.

Federal Law Ties Contribution Limit To Gift Tax Exemption

Now, people with special needs will be able to save more than ever.

The limit on ABLE investments, in line with the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, is tied to the federal gift tax exclusion, which limits the amount of money people can give to others before those gifts are taxed. Likewise, the gift exclusion itself is pegged to inflation, the amount of value a dollar loses as the price of goods and services goes up.

In effect, the limit on ABLE investing is also pegged to inflation. And since the federal gift tax exclusion was just raised from $14,000 to $15,000, the limit for ABLE accounts is going up, too.