Thursday, May 15, 2014
Maryland Elder Law and Disability Law specialist Ron Landsman provides a thoughtful analysis of use of trusts, especially "special needs trusts," to assist families in effective managment of assets. His most recent article, "When Worlds Collides: State Trust Law and Federal Welfare Programs," appears in the Spring 2014 issue of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) Journal. Minus the footnotes, his article begins:
"'Special needs trusts,' which enable people with assets to qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid, are the intersection of two different worlds: poverty programs and the tools of wealth management. Introducing trusts into the world of public benefits has resulted in deep confusion for public benefit administrators. . . . The confusion arising from the merger of trust law with public benefits is sharply drawn in the agencies' [Social Security Administration (SSA) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)] attempts to define what it means for a trust to be for the sole benefit of the public benefits recipient. Public benefits administrators have focused on the distributions a trustee makes rather than the fiduciary standards that guide the trustee. The agencies have imposed detailed distribution rules that range from the picayune to the counterproductive and without regard, and sometimes contrary, to the best interests of the disabled beneficiary."
Drawing upon his experience in drafting trusts for disabled persons, Ron takes on the challenge of explaining how and where he sees the agencies' focus on "distribution" as misguided. He contends, for example:
"The [better] task for CMS and SSA [would be] to use their authority to develop standards and guidelines that utilize, rather than thwart, competent, responsible, properly trained trustees as their partners in making special needs trusts an effective tool in serving the needs of people with disabilities. If this were done properly, capable trustees would be the allies of the federal and state agencies in the efficient use of limited private resources. Beneficiaries would live better, more rewarding lives to the extent that resources can make a difference, at a lower cost to Medicaid, with a greater possibility of more funds recovered through payback."
Ron is detailed in his critique of agency guidelines and manuals, and he provides clear examples of his "better" sole benefit analysis.