Perhaps less well known nationally than the Stetson Law School Special Needs Trust (SNT) Conference, the annual SNT conference presented by the University of Texas (UT) Law School represents a unique and complementary program that more structured settlement and personal injury settlement planning professionals should consider as an educational priority.
Attended by attorneys, financial advisors, trust officers, government agency representatives and care managers, the 12th Annual UT SNT program not only offered an outstanding faculty and comprehensive resource materials, it also integrated federal and Texas state-specific considerations (laws; regulations; current issues and trends; case examples; strategies; best practices) into a detailed learning mosaic that other national (non-state specific) special needs programs are unable to replicate.
Even for attendees venued outside of Texas, however, this integrated federal/state educational perspective provided a valuable analysis of the challenges and alternatives created by the interaction of the multiple sources of ever-changing special needs laws and regulations which sometimes conflict and often are subject to inconsistent administrative rulings.
Kudos to conference co-chairs, Patricia Sitchler and Renee Lovelace, as well as the entire conference faculty. Given the complicated scope and objectives of the UT SNT program, the resulting synthesis could easily have resulted in confusion. Instead, the 12th annual UT SNT conference served both as an excellent updated guidebook for Texas special needs professionals and as a potential model for other state special needs educational institutions and practitioners.
Topics and Speakers
- How to Make a Special Needs Trust - Craig Reaves
- Maximizing Public Benefits - H. Clyde Farrell and Christina Lesher
- Case Law Update - Rebecca Morgan and Elisa Dillard Rainey
- Medicaid Planning for Kids - Christina Lesher
- Texas Health and Human Services Commission Update - Shari Nichols
- Accessible, Available and Affordable Healthcare Resources - Leah Cohen; Anna Marie Mendez; Tresi Moore Weeks
- Working with SSA and the Trust Reviewer Teams - Pi-Yi Mayo (Moderator); Amanda Flood; Dana Marquez
- SNTs and the New SSA Trust Review Procedures - Neal Winston
- The New Texas Supported Decision-Making Agreement Act - Tresi Moore Weeks and Renee Lovelace
- Texas Legislative Update - Craig Hopper
- SNTs and Tax Planning - Bradley Frigon
- IRAs and SNTs - Renee Lovelace
- The Texas ABLE Act - Stephen Dale and Chris Masey
- Veterans Benefits and SNTs - Hon. Robert Davis
- Getting Families to Spend More Time Planning Ahead - Stephen Dale (Moderator); Matthews Badders; H. Clyde Farrell; Nancy Sosa; Scott Stebler
- Paying Caregivers - Katherine Barr; Scott Stebler
- The Role of SNT Attorneys in Personal Injury Settlement Planning - Patricia Flora Sitchler
- Ethical Issues in SNT Planning - Mary Alice Jackson
S2KM Comments About Selected Issues and Presentations
- UT SNT Conference Resources - As stated above, the conference handout materials (1481 pages of conference-specific legal papers and power points, plus sample forms, drafting tips, and other resources) provide valuable and recommended reference and learning resources. These materials are available for purchase in multiple formats on the UT CLE website.
- SNT Professional Education Resources - The number and quality of educational resources available for special needs professionals continues to increase and improve. In addition to the UT SNT conference, S2KM has attended and reviewed the most recent related conferences sponsored by Stetson, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA ) and the Academy of Special Needs Planners (ASNP ). ASNP has also sponsored a series of special needs planning webinars. Hal Wright's book: "The Complete Guide to Creating a Special Needs Life Care Plan" represents another valuable resource. Wright, a certified financial planner who focused much of his career on special needs clients, recommends and explains "a comprehensive approach integrating life, resource, financial, and legal planning to ensure a brighter future for a person with a disability."
- Personal Injury Settlement Planning - As S2KM has discussed in numerous blog posts (example), personal injury settlement planning represents a strategic, underdeveloped market for both structured settlement and special needs professionals. UT SNT Conference co-Chair Patricia Sitchler's presentation in Austin (see above) highlighted these opportunities for SNT attorneys. Both the National Structured Settlement Trade Association (NSSTA) and the Society of Settlement Planners (SSP) have taken recent steps to expand their collaboration with special needs attorneys. NSSTA has appointed a Special Needs Trust Task Force to develop strategic relationships with special needs attorneys and also featured Sitchler as a speaker at NSSTA's . SSP's 2016 Annual Conference (March 10-12 in Tucson, Arizona) will include a joint session and social event with ASNP which recently hosted its own settlement planning webinar series.
- Supported Decision-Making - Effective Sept. 1, 2015,Texas became the first state to recognize supported decision-making agreements as a less restrictive alternative to guardianship. As defined under Texas' new law, a supported decision-making agreement is an alternative to guardianship for an adult with a disability who may need assistance with making decisions regarding daily living but is not so incapacitated that he or she needs a guardianship. As explained by Tresi Moore Weeks and Renee Lovelace in their UT conference presentation (see above) and accompanying paper, the supported decision-making process "is an outgrowth of person-centered planning" which in turn "is based on the belief that people with disabilities are people first, with their own gifts and contributions. A person-centered plan develops a life plan for the future by focusing on the individual’s preferences and capacities. It provides supports to the individual while giving the individual as much self determination and independence as he or she wants and is able to take on." Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which was adopted by the U.N. in 2006 and signed (but not yet ratified) by the United States and signed or ratified by 159 other countries, requires states to "take appropriate measures to provide access by persons with disabilities to the support they may require in exercising their legal capacity."
- New SSA Trust Review Procedures - As S2KM has previously reported (see: ASNP 2015 Annual Conference and the Stetson 2015 SNT Conference ), the process by which the Social Security Administration (SSA) reviews SNTs has changed dramatically during the past two years as the result of meetings between SSA representatives and advocates who deal with SNT issues. The UT 2016 SNT Conference featured two complementary video presentations explaining the background, processes, status and impact of these changes: 1) Pi-Yi Mayo moderated a discussion with SSA representatives Amanda Flood and Dana Marquez; 2) Neal Winston explained why the problems with inconsistent, erroneous, or vaguely defined SSA SNT decisions occur; reviewed sources of SSA SNT written policy; discussed current SSA SNT policy trends; detailed the new centralized SSA SNT review procedure; and recommended current best practices for communicating with the SSA about SNTs. Both presentations were supported by excellent papers.
- The Texas ABLE Act - Stephen Dale and Chris Masey reported on the Texas ABLE Act under which eligible individuals with disabilities could start an ABLE account, modeled after current Section 529 savings accounts. For additional ABLE Act background, see this S2KM blog post. Their presentations summarized proposed, related IRS regulations as well as new POMS, issued December 21, 2015, in which the SSA explains ABLE accounts and provides instructions for developing and documenting account balances and distributions. In addition, Dale and Masey identified and addressed multiple practical ABLE-related issues to help attendees educate and advise their special needs clients and communities how best and when to utilize this new disability funding option.
For additional S2KM reporting about structured settlements and government benefit issues, see the structured settlement wiki.