The Academy of Special Needs Planners (ASNP), one of three national associations of special needs attorneys (the others being the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) and the Special Needs Alliance (SNA), hosted its ninth annual educational conference March 26-28, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Special needs attorneys are one of several professional groups who participate in, and are helping to define, the evolving personal injury settlement planning market. Other settlement planning professionals and associations include: structured settlement consultants (SSP and NSSTA); Medicare set-aside professionals (NAMSAP) and life care planners (AANLCP).
Unlike educational programs sponsored by NAELA and SNA, ASNP's annual conferences are open to non-members. ASNP's programs consistently provide superior learning experiences featuring prominent speakers and comprehensive handout materials.
ASNP 2015 SPEAKERS AND TOPICS
- Avram Sacks - "Childhood Disabled Beneficiary Benefits"
- Janet Lowder - "Family Law Issues for a Child or Spouse with Special Needs"
- Thomas Brinker and Vincent Russo - "Tax Traps for Families with Special Needs Children"
- Theresa Varnet and Fredrick Misilo - "SSA's New Trust Guide"
- Larry Rocamora - "Leaving Retirement Benefits to Persons with Special Needs"
- Theresa Varnet and Nancy Chudacoff - "Understanding the ABLE and the Disabled Military Child Protection Act"
- Scott Solkoff and Ann Koerner - "How the Affordable Care Act has Changed Settlement Planning and Special Needs Planning"
- Ask the Experts Panel
Based upon the settlement planning mandate "know your client", which should include your client's legal and financial challenges before, during and following settlement, all of these topics arguably are relevant to settlement planners. Three of ASNP's 2015 educational topics, however, ("SSA's New Trust Guide", "Understanding the ABLE Act" and the "Affordable Care Act") are especially important.
S2KM has reported previously about the ABLE Act as well as the impact of the ACA on structured settlements and settlement planning - including a featured article in the Winter 2014 Journal of Nurse Life Care Planning written by S2KM Managing Director Patrick Hindert titled "How the Affordable Care Act Affects Life Care Planners."
SSA New Trust Guide
Theresa Varnet and Fredrick Misilo's 2015 ASNP presentation about the Social Security Administration's (SSA) new Trust Guide introduced a new settlement planning topic which was repeated with permission and acknowledgments at the SSP 2015 Annual Conference by ASNP National Director Kevin Urbatsch.
The background to the new SSA Trust Guide was a lack of uniformity among SSA Regions especially in reviewing (d)(4)(A) self-settled special needs trusts (SNTs) which are frequently funded with structured settlements as part of personal injury settlement plans. Growing frustrations among SNT stakeholders peaked in May 2012 when the SSA issued a new POMS (SI01120.203b) , without advance notice, creating changes to the "sole benefit rule" resulting in the disqualification of many SNTs.
Note: The Program Operations Manual System (POMS) is "a primary source of information used by Social Security employees to process claims for Social Security benefits."
Responding to complaints from a group of SNT advocates, then SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue initiated a series of meetings in January 2013 between SSA senior staff members and the advocates who had organized themselves into the SSI Advocacy Committee. Many issues/problems were identified and discussed. One result was the new SSA Trust Guide released April 23, 2014 to be used for national SSA trust training and SSA Regional trust evaluation - with the POMS still considered the SSA's primary resource.
Unfortunately, there are some problems with the new SSA Trust Guide - and one of the problems concerns structured settlements. The Trust Guide states that additions to a (d)(4)(A) SNT after age 65 results in disqualification with no mention of the exception that exists in the POMS (SI 01120-203b.1.C) for structured settlements.
NOTE: during the SSP 2015 Annual Conference, NSSTA Executive Director Eric Vaughn identified another problem (d)(4)(A) SNT's funded with structured settlements are experiencing in some states. Although no evidence exists the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA) annuity rules are applicable to structured settlements, some state SSA and/or Medicaid employees have attempted to disqualify SNTs if they include structured settlements that violate those rules. For background, see S2KM's 2007 series titled "Inconvenient Questions".
The SSI Advocacy Committee has requested special needs attorneys and other settlement planners to report problems with the SSA Trust Guide to committee members Neil Winston, Mary O'Byrne and/or Theresa Varnet. Although barriers to progress exist, including hostility from the current Congress toward SSI as a welfare dependency and uncertainty whether SSA will continue to meet with advocates, the SSI Advocacy Committee hopes to expand upon its initial success.
ASNP Webinar Series
During the past 18 months, in addition to its annual educational conferences, ASNP has sponsored two separate 12-part webinar series addressing "settlement planning" and "special needs planning". Not only do ASNP's webinars identify topical components of these complex, overlapping professional disciplines, they also raise fundamental questions: what are the similarities and differences between "settlement planning" and "special needs planning"?
Some of the similarities and differences are apparent from the ASNP webinar topics themselves. Others are not.
Settlement Planning vs. Special Needs Planning
Both settlement planning and special needs planning involve disabled clients and require multi-professional teams including special needs attorneys, life care planners, care managers and financial advisors. In addition to personal injury victims, special needs attorneys represent and advise individuals suffering from birth defects and developmental disabilities and their families.
Although special needs attorneys play a variety of roles and provide a variety of products and services, their signature products are special needs trusts (SNTs). For settlement planning, the SNTs are most typically (d)(4)(A) self-settled and pooled trusts. For non-personal injury special needs clients, third party special needs trusts play a more important role.
While many special needs attorney move easily between settlement planning and special needs planning, the financial planning communities for each respective discipline are divided and their products are different. For example: MetLife is an important product provider for both settlement planning (structured settlement annuities) and special needs planning (life insurance; Medicaid annuities). Their respective internal departments, marketing resources and sales forces, however, are completely separate.
Settlement planners (particularly financial planners who sell structured settlements) are one-and-done product providers. They focus on the settlement recipient and how to distribute settlement funds. Their role ends when the settlement occurs. Regardless of discipline, the roles of special needs planners are more diverse (attorney; trustee; guardian); holistic (family and estate planning); and long-term (with settlement planning, for example - continuing well beyond the settlement).
Settlement planning, of course, includes many priority issues which rarely, if ever, occur with non-personal injury special needs planning. For examples: Medicare set-aside arrangements; IRC 468B qualified settlement funds; lien resolutions). Nonetheless, one of the key factors for the successful development of personal injury settlement planning is a better understanding of its relationship with special needs planning. ASNP's webinars and annual conferences provide an excellent continuing resource to accomplish this educational objective.