Georgia’s recently implemented ABLE program (under the name of STABLE Accounts) is a great a way for individuals with disabilities to save money without losing eligibility for certain public benefits programs, like Medicaid, SSI,* or SSDI.
However, ABLE does not take the place of a Special Needs Trust, and here are a couple reasons why:
STABLE Account Deposit Restrictions
STABLE Accounts are tax-free savings accounts for disability-related expenses such as basic living expenses, housing, transportation, education, legal fees and personal support services. Anyone can contribute to the individual’s STABLE Account, but there is a limit of $14,000 of year of contributions.
For Estate Planning purposes, if someone has more than $14,000 in cash to leave to someone with a disability (remember to count life insurance!), it cannot all go into a STABLE account.
Also, the maximum lifetime limit for STABLE Accounts is currently $445,000. Special Needs Trusts do not have annual or lifetime limits. Also, anything can be left in a Special Needs Trust, not just money. Property, stocks, and businesses can all be put into a Trust but not into a STABLE account which can only hold money.
So while STABLE is wonderful, it does not replace a Special Needs Trust for Estate Planning purposes.
Special Needs Trusts & STABLE: What Can the Funds be Used For?
Funds in a STABLE account must be used for “disability related expenses.” If funds from the STABLE Account are used for non-disability related expenses, the individual will have to “pay regular income taxes, plus a 10% additional tax, on a portion of those funds.”
Additionally, the non-Qualified funds could be counted against the individual’s eligibility for public benefits programs, like Medicaid or SSI. Special Needs Trusts funds generally cannot be used for food or shelter and cannot be given as cash or a cash equivalent to the beneficiary, importantly payments from the Trust do not have to be disability related and you have flexibility to use the funds to improve your loved one’s quality of life.
STABLE Accounts & Special Needs Trusts Complement Each Other
If possible, setting up a Special Needs Trust and STABLE Account is the best bet. This gives the individual with the disability the most financial security and freedom.
There are definitely tax implications for both when distributing funds for the accounts, and both have safeguards against losing governments benefits. Further, while there are age restrictions on STABLE Accounts, there are no age limits or requirements as to who can receive funds as part of a Special Needs Trust.
We Can Help
We’ve not only set up our own STABLE Account and Special Needs Trust, but we’ve helped hundreds of other families do the same. We’ve been through the process and understand the concerns with ensuring our loved ones are financially secure for a time when we’re not here. You can reach me directly at DJ@JeyLaw.com or 678.325.3872.
*If you have more than $100,000 in your account, your SSI benefits may be suspended.