The benefits for income, health care, food and housing for disabled Americans are awarded based on a resource test, so that individuals who seek benefits are typically limited to have no more than $2,000 in savings or assets. This includes eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), SNAP and Medicaid.
In 2014, Congress passed legislation allowing people with disabilities to establish an account, similar to a special needs trust and with some similarities to a 529 college savings account, to accumulate funds to pay for qualified disability expenses. The legislation was named the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE).
nj.com’s article, “ABLE accounts–A tax advantaged tool for special needs planning,” advises that when used correctly, this savings account may allow families to build a small nest egg without affecting eligibility for public program benefits.
An ABLE 529 account is designed to be a savings or investment account to supplement public benefits. It can be a powerful strategy for individuals, who previously were unable to build supplemental funds outside of a trust for their needs. An ABLE account is funded with after-tax contributions that can grow tax-free, when used for a qualified disability expense. The account owner is also the beneficiary and contributions can be made from any person including the account beneficiary, friends, and family.
The ABLE account is available to individuals with significant disabilities, whose age of onset of disability was before they turned 26. A person could be over the age of 26 but must have had an age of onset before their 26th birthday.
Contributions are restricted to $15,000 per year. Because the ABLE account is connected to the 529 plan for education, the total contribution limit is based upon the individual state’s limit for 529 plans. Individuals can have up to $100,000 in an ABLE account, without impacting SSI eligibility. The first $100,000 also does not count toward the $2,000 resource restriction.
A frequently asked question is whether to use an ABLE account or a Special Needs Trust for planning purposes. ABLE are subject to certain limitations that make it impossible, or at least ill advised, to use them instead of a Special Needs Trust. Remember that ABLE accounts can only receive $15,000 in deposits each year, but, in most cases, Special Needs Trusts can receive much larger contributions in a year, once they are funded. This is an important difference for parents who want to leave more substantial assets to their child when they die but don’t want to jeopardize the child’s eligibility for critical services. In that situation, a Special Needs Trust may be more desirable.
When the beneficiary of the ABLE account passes away, any leftover funds in the account are typically reimbursed to the state to defray the costs of providing services during the beneficiary’s life. However, that’s different than a properly drafted Special Needs Trust.
In 2019, ABLE account owners who work, but don’t have an employer-sponsored retirement account, can now save up to $12,140 in additional savings from their earnings.
Every situation is different, so families are advised to speak with an estate planning attorney to investigate whether a Special Needs Trust or ABLE account should be used for their family member.
Reference: nj.com (April 20, 2019) “ABLE accounts – A tax advantaged tool for special needs planning”