Government Benefits. Getting Them? Protect Them!

Article excerpt

Do you, or does your spouse or child, receive government disability benefits? If so, you know how complicated and time-consuming the application process can be, especially if your application was denied and you had to appeal. Imagine losing those benefits and having to reapply.

You'd first have to determine what can be done (if anything} to once again be eligible to receive benefits. Next, you'd spend long hours gathering information and completing paperwork. And then you'd wait for a decision, during which time you'd live without the monthly income the disability benefit previously provided.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a backlog of appeals, so it's in your best interest to protect what you already have. Here's how.

Learn the rules.

"Know what made you or your family member eligible to receive benefits, and what will make you ineligible," says Jay Gilston, a Special Care Planner with Emerald Financial Resources (www.emeraldfinancialresources.com) in Colts Neck, New Jersey, a general agency of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). For example, working in a job that's considered "substantial work" or having assets of $2,000 or more in your name could make you ineligible Other factors may also affect your benefits, including marriage, divorce, and criminal activity. A wealth of information can be found at www.ssa.gov (including which assets are not counted), it can be complicated. Meeting with a social security case worker or another professional who's well versed in the rules, regulations, and laws could be helpful in getting questions answered.

Create a life care plan.

Meet with a financial professional, such as a Special Care Planner, who's been educated to serve the community of people with special needs. He or she can help you create a life care plan that's person centered, so the person who has special needs can obtain the best quality of life possible. "It involves more than just finances," explains Gilston. "It incorporates a financial strategy along with other measures, such as developing a letter of intent, making a decision about guardianships, establishing a special needs trust, considering housing needs, and coordinating benefits received from the government, community organizations, or friends and relatives." He emphasizes that every aspect of life should be considered, "This is not a short term need," he says. "It could last 60 years,"

Seek out the advice of a special needs attorney.

Would you seek out the advice of a real estate attorney if you wanted to incorporate a business? Or ask a criminal attorney about tax laws? Probably not. Many attorneys practice in specialized fields, just as other professionals do. And when it comes to legal matters regarding special needs, it's best to choose someone who has the experience and skill it takes to serve people with special needs. "You want someone who's familiar with the terminology, and who can work with others on your team to ensure that everything in your life care plan is coordinated," says Gilston. "For instance, you don't want the terms of your will conflicting with how your trust is structured."

Prepare a letter of intent.

A letter of intent gathers together medical, social, and personal information about the person with special needs. "It can be invaluable to future caregivers." says Gilston, "especially in regards to caring for a person who has autism, since they can be so greatly affected by small changes in routines." Regarding protecting eligibility for government benefits, a letter of intent can be critical, outlining why certain financial measures were taken and how changes to a financial strategy might jeopardize benefits. "Courts take this document very seriously," Gilston adds. "It gives judges information that helps in their decision-making process and should be kept as well protected as other legal documents."

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A free letter of intent template is available from MassMutual. …