SOCIAL SECURITY CLAIMS. We represent individuals with special needs in obtaining and maintaining Social Security benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), and Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”). We assist with initial applications and case reviews, and provide referrals to qualified associated counsel for Social Security appeals at all levels. We advocate directly with the agencies, or we provide information to assist our clients in becoming effective advocates on their own behalf.
BENEFIT ADVOCACY. There is also a wide variety of local, Washington State, and federal public benefit programs available to individuals with special needs. The eligibility requirements for these programs vary. We represent individuals with special needs in obtaining and maintaining these benefits. We advocate directly with the agencies, or we provide information to assist our clients in becoming effective advocates on their own behalf.
In Washington State agencies such as the Department of Social and Health Services (“DSHS”), the Division of Developmental Disabilities (“DDD”), and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (“DVR”), administer programs for aging adults and individuals with special needs. These programs include the Community Options Program Entry System (“COPES”), Medicaid Personal Care (“MPC”), the DDD Home and Community Based Waiver Programs, and DDD Family Support. In addition, there are a wide variety of social services programs such as supervised housing, day programs, independent living programs, work training and job counseling, housing cost assistance, and other services. In order to qualify for some of the public benefits programs individuals or couples must meet the income and asset limitations established by the agencies administering these programs.
For some individuals, public benefits are not appropriate or meaningful. Therefore, other options may be considered to meet long term care needs. We also offer substantial experience in creating and implementing individually designed plans with alternative funding sources.
II. ELDER LAW:
Elder law incorporates most of the practice areas of our firm including planning for Medicaid and/or Medicare eligibility, establishing guardianships, drafting powers of attorney and real property transactions, planning for long term care, end of life decision-making and other legal issues faced by aging adults and their families. In addition to the specific practice areas described here, we bring our experience with these issues to help clients develop an individualized plan to assist them in maintaining personal choice, quality of life and dignity as they age.
III. ESTATE PLANNING & SPECIAL NEEDS TRUSTS:
The term “Estate Planning” covers a wide range of legal planning services and strategies. As your attorney, we work with you and your family members, accountants, financial advisers and other relevant professionals, to develop a plan that best suits you and the needs of your family. The following is a list of the estate planning strategies and documents typically used by our office and a brief explanation of each.
WILL. Also known as a “Last Will and Testament,” a Will controls what happens to the majority of your property and who will manage your property upon your death. Your Will is revocable and/or amendable at any time as long as you demonstrate that you have capacity to understand and sign the document. Your Will may include planning for federal and state estate taxes, trusts or other planning strategies that meet the specific needs of those who will inherit your estate. Such trusts and planning strategies include basic support and maintenance trusts, special needs trusts, education trusts, testamentary guardianships for minor or disabled children or other strategies to address your individual preferences. If you die without a Will, the intestacy statutes of the State of Washington determine who receives your estate without consideration of your individual needs and preferences.
TESTAMENTARY TRUSTS. A Testamentary Trust is a Trust that is included in your Will. The Trust does not come into existence until the event stated in your Will. Most commonly this event is your death or the death of your spouse. Such Trusts are created to address issues which are important to you.
INTERVIVOS/LIVING TRUST. An Intervivos or Living Trust is a document that controls the management of the assets transferred into the Trust during the lifetime of the individual creating the Trust. A Living Trust differs from a Will in that a Living Trust takes effect prior to your death and may avoid probate. A Living Trust may be used for management of personal and real property assets during your lifetime, and subsequent to your disability or incapacity.
SPECIAL NEEDS TRUST. A Special Needs Trust (“SNT”), sometimes referred to as a Supplemental Needs Trust, is a specialized type of trust that provides financial management and preservation of asset sensitive government benefits for individuals with a disabling condition. A SNT provides a source of funds to pay for extra and supplemental needs during the individual’s lifetime. The Trust can be set up as a testamentary or intervivos/living trust. Funds in a SNT are not considered “available” to the beneficiary for purposes of benefit eligibility and are considered an exempt resource.
COMMUNITY PROPERTY AGREEMENT. A Community Property Agreement is a contract that transfers some or all of the community and separate property of one spouse to the surviving spouse. A Community Property Agreement may permit an estate to avoid probate. A Community Property Agreement is appropriate in only very specialized situations and should be used with caution.
POWER OF ATTORNEY. A Power of Attorney (“POA”) allows you to grant certain specific powers to a designated person known as an attorney-in-fact. Several different types of Powers of Attorney can be prepared. When you sign a Power of Attorney, you designate the individuals of your choice as your agents to act as you would act when you are unwilling or unable to do so. You may grant the attorney-in-fact (agent), powers which are as specific or broad as you determine. For example, you may grant the attorney-in-fact the authority to manage your financial affairs, make decisions regarding your medical care, arrange for your acute and long term care, and/or make other important decisions for you. You have the authority to revoke a power of attorney at any time as long as you are not determined to be incapacitated.
GIFTING. Lifetime Gifting may reduce the size of a taxable estate at death. Tax planning through gifting is highly dependent on each individual’s specific circumstances and the estate and gift tax laws
IV. GUARDIANSHIP AND PROTECTIVE SERVICES:
Guardianship is a court process in which a guardian is appointed for an individual who cannot manage his or her personal or financial affairs. A guardianship is tailored to meet the specific needs of the individual. Options range from a Full Guardianship of the Person and Estate where broad authority is granted to the Guardian, to a Limited Guardianship of the Person or Estate where only specific authorities are granted to the Guardian. The court evaluates whether a less restrictive alternative to guardianship exists based on the “best interests” of the individual. Examples of less restrictive alternative to guardianship include a financial and/or medical power of attorney, the appointment of a representative payee to receive and manage government benefits or the creation of a trust with specialized provisions to protect the individual. We represent individuals seeking guardianships to protect family members or others, individuals with an interest in a guardianship proceeding initiated by another person, and individuals subject to a proposed guardianship. When representing any client in the establishment of a guardianship, we discuss all available options within the guardianship proceedings as well as the less restrictive alternatives to guardianship to determine how best to meet the individual’s needs.
A Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”) is appointed in all new guardianship proceedings to investigate and recommend whether a guardian is necessary and, if so, the extent and type of the Guardianship. The GAL is required to file a report to the court with his or her recommendations.
Once a guardianship has been established, the guardian must file regular reports to the court on all financial activity in the guardianship estate and on the status of the person who is the subject of the guardianship. These reports must be presented to the Court for approval. We encourage our clients to prepare, file and present these reports on their own if they are comfortable doing so; however, our office regularly represents clients in preparing, filing and/or presenting these reports.
V. PROBATE / NON-PROBATE ESTATES:
PROBATE. Probate is the process of administering the estate of a deceased individual. Probate may be required when the deceased person’s assets are over a certain dollar amount regardless of whether or not there is a Will. If a Will exists, the Court admits it into probate and the terms of the Will decide how the estate will be distributed. The Personal Representative then administers the decedent’s estate without further Court intervention unless problems arise within the estate. If there is no Will, or the persons named in the Will are unwilling or unable to act, an Administrator may be appointed to distribute the estate according to the laws of Washington State.
NON-PROBATE ESTATE. Often specific assets are not subject to probate. For example, (1) Assets held by the deceased person and another person who had a right of survivorship (i.e. property held in joint tenancy with right of survivorship – JTWROS); (2) Assets controlled by a valid Community Property Agreement; (3) Certain assets with a beneficiary designation, e.g. life insurance, IRA’s, 401Ks; (4) Assets held in the deceased person’s name if the total value is less than a threshold amount defined by law ($100,000 pursuant to RCW 11.62.010 as of 2012).
VI. SPECIAL EDUCATION:
We represent parents of children with special needs in resolving conflicts with school districts over appropriate educational programs. We assist parents at all stages of dispute resolution, attendance at Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”) conferences, mediation, due process hearings, state level review and civil action in Federal Court. In addition, our attorneys are available to serve as a mediator in special education cases.