A Divorce Decree Awarding Joint Legal Custody May Control Beyond Your Child’s 18th Birthday

Estate Planning Practice Group

Estate Planning Practice Group

Are you the divorced parent of a child with a developmental disability? Is your child approaching age 18? Does your divorce decree award you and your ex-spouse joint legal custody of your child? Are you thinking of filing for guardianship of your child? If you answer yes to all of these questions, then you may need to file a motion to modify your decree of dissolution instead of petitioning for guardianship in the probate court.

The case of In the Matter of S.J.M. presented just such a situation. In 2015, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, held that the St. Charles County Probate Court erred as a matter of law when it entered a judgment of incapacity and appointed a sole guardian for an 18 year old individual with Down’s Syndrome where the parents’ 2007 decree of dissolution awarded them joint legal custody over their child. The Eastern District found the decree of dissolution was still in effect when the probate court rendered its judgment in 2014, and therefore the probate court produced inconsistent judgments. Continue reading »

Special Needs Trusts and Medicare Cost-Savings Programs Eligibility

Estate Planning Practice Group

Estate Planning Practice Group

The Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB) program is a Medicare cost-savings program that helps low-income Medicare beneficiaries pay their monthly premiums, deductibles, copays, and coinsurance for Medicare Parts A (when applicable) and B. 

Medicare beneficiaries who qualify for the QMB program automatically qualify for the Medicare Part D Extra Help Program, which pays for 85% or more of the monthly premium, deductibles, and costs associated with the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Program.

To be eligible for the QMB program, an individual must:

  1. Be enrolled in Medicare Part A (hospital insurance);
  2. Have monthly income less than 100% of the federal poverty level ($1,032 for single individuals or $1,392 for married couples); and
  3. Have assets and resources less than $7,560 (for single individuals) or $11,340 (for married couples).

Note: Medicare allows for a standard deduction of $20 from monthly income before income is compared to the federal poverty level.

Assets and resources that do count in determining eligibility for the QMB program include checking accounts, savings accounts, and investments such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. Continue reading »

Tax Reform Expands Benefit of Tuition Savings, ABLE Programs

Estate Planning Practice Group

Estate Planning Practice Group

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) introduced a number of changes to the tax code for individual taxpayers. Major changes included lowering individual tax rates, increasing the standard deduction, and increasing the child tax credit.

The legislation also made significant, but often overlooked, changes to the tax treatment of contributions to qualified tuition savings and ABLE programs.

Qualified Tuition Programs (§ 529 Plans)

529 plans are tax-advantaged investment plans designed to encourage saving for the cost of education. 529 plans offer a number of tax benefits:

  • Earnings. As 529 plans grow in value, earnings on investments are not subject to state or federal income tax, so savings grow tax-free.
  • Contributions. In Missouri, owners of 529 plan accounts may deduct up to $8,000 ($16,000 if married filing jointly) of 529 plan contributions from Missouri state income tax.
  • Withdrawals. Funds withdrawn to pay for qualifying educational expenses are not subject to state or federal income tax.

Prior to the TCJA, funds withdrawn from 529 plans could only be used for “qualified higher education expenses,” which included tuition, fees, books, supplies, and other equipment required for attendance at an institution of higher education, most often a college or university. Continue reading »

It’s Official: ABLE Accounts Now Available in Missouri & Illinois

Estate Planning Practice Group

Estate Planning Practice Group

After much anticipation, Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts may now be opened in both Missouri  (where they are called STABLE accounts) and Illinois.

These new accounts are designed for individuals with disabilities who developed their disability before age 26. Individuals who meet the age criteria and are currently receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) benefits are automatically eligible for an ABLE account. Individuals not currently receiving benefits but who meet the age requirement can open an ABLE account if they satisfy SSI criteria for “functionality limitations.”

The ABLE Act allows an individual with a disability – and his or her family – to put funds into a tax-advantaged account. ABLE account funds may be used for qualified expenses of living with a disability. In addition to medical expenses, funds may be used for basic living expenses, education, housing, transportation, employment, assistive and personal support services, health care, legal fees, health and wellness, financial management, and administrative services. Continue reading »

Understanding the Special Needs Trust Fairness (SNTF) Act

Estate Planning Practice Group

Estate Planning Practice Group

With the passing of the Special Needs Trust Fairness (SNTF) Act, individuals with a disability under the age of 65 may establish a first party special needs trust on their own behalf. Prior to the SNTF Act, special needs trusts could only be established by a parent, grandparent, legal guardian, or court.

Special Needs Trusts

Special needs trusts are established for the benefit of individuals with a disability to supplement the financial assistance they receive from government programs, namely Medicaid. Special needs trusts are valuable tools for maintaining Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) eligibility, as funds held in a special needs trust are not considered when determining an individual’s eligibility for financial assistance under such programs.


To establish a SNT on their own behalf, the individual must be capable of making financial decisions and be under the age of 65. If eligible, individuals with disabilities enjoy increased autonomy and self-direction under the SNTF Act, especially in cases where living relatives or guardians are unable or unwilling to establish a trust on the individual’s behalf. Continue reading »

Medicaid Eligibility Expands for Elderly, Blind, Disabled

Estate Planning Practice Group

Estate Planning Practice Group

The elderly, blind, and individuals with disabilities will now find it a little easier to qualify for Medicaid benefits – and to keep slightly more of their savings.

With the passing of Missouri House Bill 1565, which amended section 208.010 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, beginning in fiscal 2018 (effective July 1, 2017) the asset limit to qualify for Medicaid coverage increased to $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for married couples living together. The asset limits will continue to increase through fiscal 2021 until asset limits reach $5,000 and $10,000, respectively.

By increasing the asset limits, by the end of 2021 an additional 10,000 Missourians will be eligible for Medicaid benefits–including in-home and community-based services. In addition to expanded coverage, the increased asset limits allow for current beneficiaries to hold more funds in savings without compromising Medicaid eligibility. Continue reading »

Important Tips to Consider When Planning for the Future: Care Plans and Appointed Successor Guardian

Estate Planning Practice Group

Estate Planning Practice Group

Care Plans

A care plan is a document you prepare that contains information about how to best care for your child’s daily needs. It may include a list of your child’s medications and the times each is given, particular foods for your child to avoid, how often your child gets physical therapy, or what to do for your child in an emergency.

When you have a child (or other family member) with special needs, a care plan is an essential tool. A care plan conveys vital information to caretakers. This may include doctors, nurses, therapists, emergency medics, teachers, child care providers, respite providers, grandparents, friends, and neighbors.

In the event you are no longer able to care for your child and a legal guardian must step in, the care plan can be invaluable to the guardian. Information regarding medications, specialists, and even night time routines can give the guardian necessary information to provide a sense of comfort during a difficult time for the child. Continue reading »

Spotlight on I Can Go to College: The SUCCEED Program at University of Missouri–St. Louis

Estate Planning Practice Group

Estate Planning Practice Group

For many students with disabilities, high school is the end of their educational journey. However, some students in the St. Louis area are continuing their education through the SUCCEED program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis (UMSL).

SUCCEED is a two-year (four semester) residential, inclusive program located on the UMSL main campus. The program is open to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities ages 18–25. Students live on campus and take college courses each semester. The goals of the program are to help students become independent through “academics, vocational experience, and residential/student life.”

Each SUCCEED student takes four courses per semester: three SUCCEED electives and one UMSL course. Accommodations and modifications are provided as needed through both SUCCEED and UMSL. Continue reading »

Special Needs Trusts Can Now Be Created by Individuals

Estate Planning Practice Group

Estate Planning Practice Group

On December 13, 2016, the long awaited amendment to the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act was signed into law by President Obama.

For more than 20 years, individuals who had a disability were unable to create a self-settled special needs trust without a parent, grandparent, or legal guardian participating in the process. The only other option for an individual with a disability was to have the court create the trust on his or her behalf. This was often an incredibly costly process. Continue reading »

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