Estate Planning: Helping Protect Your Interests

Special Needs Trusts Can Now Be Created by Individuals

Misty A. Watson

Misty A. Watson




On December 13, 2016, the long awaited amendment to the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act was signed into law by President Obama.

For more than 20 years, individuals who had a disability were unable to create a self-settled special needs trust without a parent, grandparent, or legal guardian participating in the process. The only other option for an individual with a disability was to have the court create the trust on his or her behalf. This was often an incredibly costly process. Continue reading »

Understanding the ABLE Act

Misty A. Watson

Misty A. Watson




Co-authored by Misty Watson and Samantha Maerz

“A major victory for the disability community, ABLE, for the first time in our country’s policy on disability, recognizes that there are added costs to living with a disability….For far too long, federally imposed asset limits to remain eligible for critical public benefits have served as a roadblock toward greater financial independence for the millions of individuals living with a disability.” – Michael Morris, Executive Director of the National Disability Institute

Savings accounts for individuals with disabilities will soon be possible without risking their access to federal benefits. On December 19, 2014, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama after receiving huge bipartisan support in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The ABLE Act is an amendment to the federal tax code that eliminates the $2,000 cap on conventional savings accounts for individuals with disabilities to qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid.

Eligibility for many federal benefits, such as SSI, SNAP and Medicaid, requires that individuals meet a means test. Part of that test includes that an individual can report no more than $2,000 in savings. However, such a uniform test failed to recognize the additional costs of living with a disability. The ABLE Act seeks to remedy this unfairness by allowing a tax-advantaged savings account to supplement federal benefits, rather than supplanting them. Continue reading »

My Health Care Wishes: New App

Misty A. Watson

Misty A. Watson




When you need access to your health care power of attorney and living will, it is often stored in your safe deposit box or safe at home. Personally, I keep my power of attorney on a USB drive on my key chain. This has come in quite handy a few times.

Recently, an app was released called “My Health Care Wishes” at www.myhealthcarewishes.org. The Lite version, called the Personal Advance Directive Manager, allows individuals the ability to store and share their advance care directive plus one additional document with health care providers. Personal & Family Advance Directive Manager is a more robust pro version available for a small fee. It allows “unlimited storage of people profiles and documents.” Continue reading »

Costs of Raising a Child with Special Needs: The Story of Finn

Misty A. Watson

Misty A. Watson




Meet Finn and his family. Finn is a real boy with autism.

Finn’s father, Jeff Howe, shared his family’s story in “Paying for Finn: A special-needs child” for CNN’s Money Magazine. According to Howe, Finn is representative of 8% of all U.S. children because he is a child with special needs: he is autistic. His household is one of 25% of all U.S. households with a family member with special needs.

As the Howe family has learned, raising a child with special needs comes at great cost, both financial and emotional. Howe goes into great detail explaining his family’s journey with Finn. He does not hold back from sharing the specifics of his family’s finances and the costs associated with Finn’s care.

The financial burden for raising a child with special needs is staggering, to say the least, even for a family with considerable means. For families with less financial resources available to them, the financial burden is even more overwhelming. Continue reading »

Lessening the Stress of Travel for Travelers with Disabilities

Misty A. Watson

Misty A. Watson




Flying can be a frustrating experience for anyone, but for those with disabilities it is even more difficult. Knowing what rights a passenger with disabilities has is the first step to ensuring the next flight is as stress-free as possible.

Booking a Flight

When booking a flight, travelers with disabilities are generally not required to provide pre-flight notification with a few exceptions:

  1. Traveling by stretcher;
  2. Using an electronic wheelchair (or other device with special batteries); or
  3. Requiring connection to the airplane’s oxygen system during flight.

If none of these categories apply, the airline cannot deny travel for not being informed of a passenger with a disability’s travel plan. However, notifying the airline may ensure any desired accommodations are met with less stress on the day of travel.

Federal law has made provisions for people with disabilities who want to travel by airplane through the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) of 1986. The ACAA required the Department of Transportation to develop regulations to ensure non-discriminatory treatment of travelers with disabilities.
Note: While travelers with disabilities do have accommodations for air travel under the ACAA, they are not required to accept any or all accommodations.

 

Travel With an Attendant

Each airline determines whether an attendant is required, except in the following situations, which always require an attendant: Continue reading »

iPad Apps for Autism

Misty A. Watson

Misty A. Watson




If you have someone with autism in your family, a tablet computer, such as an iPad or an Android tablet, may be a good investment.

Tablet computers offer numerous apps designed to help children with special needs, and apps specifically designed for people with autism can work wonders in helping them communicate.

St. Louis native Mark Bowers designed an app called Sōsh that helps young people develop social skills. According to the app’s website, Sōsh uses a methodology designed around the “five R’s” – Relate (connect with others), Relax (reduce stress), Regulate (manage behaviors), Reason (think it through) and Recognize (understand feelings). Continue reading »

Choosing a Guardian for Your Children

Misty A. Watson

Misty A. Watson




One of the most difficult decisions parents face when completing their estate plan is who should serve as guardian for their minor children. Here are a few common discussions regarding choosing a guardian: Continue reading »

Being an advocate for your child with special needs

Misty A. Watson

Misty A. Watson




Information and strategies abound regarding techniques that should be implemented by parents of a child with special needs to advocate for the child’s education rights, therapies, and treatments. Building a network of resources and support is vital to becoming a parent advocate.

A great tool is available from the Advocacy Group Autism Speaks. They have put together a 100 day kit to help families with a new diagnosis of autism.

Parents also must quickly learn how to navigate the complicated educational laws governing children with special needs. Wrightslaw and other disability advocacy websites offer families a plethora of information regarding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and a child’s right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Continue reading »

The Importance of Care Plans & Beyond

Misty A. Watson

Misty A. Watson




A care plan is written information about how to best care for your child’s health needs. A care plan may include specific medication your child takes and the time they take it, particular foods your child should avoid, how often your child gets physical therapy, or what to do for your child in an emergency. For families with children who have special needs, a care plan can convey vital information to caretakers. This may include doctors, nurses, therapists, emergency medics, teachers, child care providers, respite providers, grandparents, friends, and neighbors. Continue reading »

Powers of Attorney v Guardianships

Misty A. Watson

Misty A. Watson




When your child turns eighteen years old, he or she is considered a legal adult. As an eighteen year old, he or she has the ability to contract, to make decisions such as whether he or she wants to continue to go to school, and whether a parent can be present in an IEP meeting. Further, because of HIPAA privacy rules, a doctor can no longer communicate with the parent regarding that child’s health issues. For families with a child who has special needs, they must make some critical decisions in order to protect their child who is turning eighteen. Two options for these families are seeking guardianship through the court or having the child sign a power of attorney, if appropriate.

Guardianships are a process through the court by which persons are declared incapacitated to the extent that they are unable to make their own decisions regarding medical care and placement, and an individual is appointed by the court to act in their stead. Since the court regulates the guardian, this process can become a costly affair and is a much longer undertaking than a power of attorney, especially if the appointment of a particular guardian is contested.

Conservatorships are formed whenever persons are declared unable to handle their own assets. If a guardianship is granted, a conservatorship will also typically be granted. If the person who was declared incompetent by the court has assets, the court will monitor the appointed conservator and will require annual reports regarding the use of the assets by the conservator to be filed by an attorney.  In order for a guardianship or conservatorship to be set aside, the incapacitated person must petition the court to have his or her legal rights restored and must demonstrate the previously incapacitated person is no longer in need of a guardian or conservator.

Continue reading »