Individuals who are disabled or have special needs are entitled to many rights and benefits that you may not know about. At The Law Offices of Michelle C. Berk, P.C., we can help you understand those rights, and help you obtain disability or Social Security benefits, or file for Guardianship, if needed, and establish trusts. Learn more about Special Needs rights below, and contact us if you have any questions.

Special Needs Planning

Estate planning must be done to protect beneficiaries with Special Needs even if the estate is minimal. If proper planning is not done, both by the relatives and also by a disabled individual, a disabled person might be disqualified from obtaining or lose benefits they need. Many people think the term “estate planning” applies only to very wealthy people. Nothing is further from the truth. An “estate” is simply what you own. If you own property, you need to plan ahead in order to make sure the desired people or charities inherit your property after your death.


If you die without planning your estate, your home, money and other property will be distributed to various relatives, sometimes distant relatives, according to a rigid formula fixed by law known as “intestacy law.” This law applies to every person who dies without a Will and does not consider special needs of any individual or family.


Without a Will, your property may be inherited by people you do not want to share in your estate.


Without a Will, individuals in control of your estate may not be the people you prefer and they may not even cooperate with each other. If you die without a Will, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania essentially makes a Will for you, according to the terms of the intestate law, which controls the distribution of the shares of your estate. The existence of a well-considered estate plan, most importantly a Will, can help avoid disputes among your heirs and will give you the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your final wishes will be carried out.

Special Needs Planning in a Will and/or Trust

Providing for the special needs of your loved ones is an integral part of Estate Planning that must always be considered. We can draft an appropriate Trust to protect the special needs of your beneficiaries.


A grandparent may wish to set aside money for a disabled grandchild, but may be afraid to do so for fear of disqualifying that grandchild from certain government benefits. A grandparent could place the money in a carefully drafted Supplemental or Special Needs Trust, designate a trustee to invest and safeguard the funds and enable the disabled child to benefit from the trust while maintaining eligibility for government benefits such as Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or other payments. This trust is sometimes called a Special Needs Trust, or Supplemental Needs Trust.


Trusts can also be established by the disabled person themselves, or as a result of receiving proceeds from a settlement or lawsuit, or to preserve their IRA, in order to maintain or prevent the loss of benefits. The law is constantly changing and the vigilant review by an attorney is recommended.

Disabilities

There are special needs trust that can either be drafted as part of a parent's or other relative's Will and it is essential that this be done in advance to prevent a child from being disqualified from benefits they need. There are also other types of special needs trusts that can be prepared. Depending on the nature of the assets that will be received, Special or Supplemental Needs Trusts may be needed to prevent costly mistakes resulting in loss of settlement proceeds or an inheritance. For example, they may protect assets that could otherwise be preserved to pay for extraordinary expenditures not covered by public benefits that a disabled child may be entitled to receive and access.


We can determine what type of Will and/or Trust or planning should be done, depending on the needs and assets and income and type of benefits are needed. We can also apply for the benefits such as Social Security Disability Benefits and SSI and others. There are other private or public insurance benefits that may be available. We can then engage in planning to make sure they can be obtained and maintained. A good background in this type of law is important. Attorneys such as myself that are members of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives can help

Guardianship

Sometimes people are unable to make decisions about their health or finances and can no longer manage for themselves. Dementia or other progressive mental, emotional or physical illnesses can rob people of the ability to keep themselves safe. In the worst cases, individuals can become victims of others who see opportunities to take cash and possessions while “helping” or doing favors. The impaired person may even be pressed to make important decisions about medical care or living arrangements. To provide a decision-maker for people in these situations, Pennsylvania law allows the Orphans’ Court to appoint a guardian of the person (for personal and health matters) and/ or a guardian of the estate (for financial matters). Anyone interested in the person’s welfare can file the petition seeking a guardian, if appropriate, with our representation. Our office also offers many community supports and alternatives.

Social Security

The Social Security Administration operates a variety of programs and benefits, including retirement and survivor benefits, Social Security disability insurance benefits, Medicare health insurance, and Supplemental Security Income benefits. Your local Social Security offices offer helpful, information publications available free to anyone who requests them. Anyone can access comprehensive information about all Social Security programs and benefits by visiting their website at www.ssa.gov. However, our law offices can help you apply for and navigate the system to obtain and maintain benefits for either disability or retirement or as needed.