None So Lonely?

During a call with a potential client I was asked “how do you trust people?” This couple has a child with a disability; and I got the impression they felt disconnected & isolated, although they knew they had family who would have their back. My answer may surprise many of you, but I had to be honest and say “I can’t, I’m still struggling with this”.

Don’t read too much into this, I did not (and do not) mean people are inherently untrustworthy. I believe quite the opposite – most people want to help and will do what they can. However, and this is where I will admit to bias and potential error in judgment; I believe first and foremost people will look out for themselves – and, in my opinion, rightfully so.

So I struggle with relying on anyone I do not have a contractual agreement with, especially if I am not paying them. Again, not because I think people are mean-spirited or liars; but I believe we ALL prioritize. And frankly, if you are being paid (or have paid for something) there is a deeper level of commitment than if you are doing a favor – whether it’s for family or not.

I don’t have solutions for this, it’s a struggle I’m facing every day. I have had things fall through, and I’ve done my best not to judge the individuals. But I am unwilling to give them a second chance, my son is to important to me – it’d be different if I was just asking for help with my pets (maybe, but as I write this I can feel doubt creeping in).

I’m writing this for the other side, those who don’t have family members with a disability who may be wondering why someone doesn’t go out more, or seems withdrawn. Speaking for myself, I get you want to understand and many have tried to empathize – but it falls flat. I don’t want to hear “I get it” or listen to you drawing a comparison (and I will admit this may be selfishness – I’m a work in progress).

Here’s my thoughts on what to do about this. Make a contract and agree on an amount to pay. This creates skin in the game for all parties, and raises the stakes to be considered if alternatives present themselves. It will also help those, like myself, who have trouble accepting people will do things just because they’re nice (again, I’m a work in progress). I’d love to hear other ideas, trust doesn’t come naturally to me.

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The Musical Autist

The Musical Autist is a place where neurodiversity is celebrated and respected!”

Who They Are 

The Musical Autist was founded to promote the culture of those with Autism through improved accessability to the arts – working with performing artists to understand the behaviors many individuals with Autism may exhibit during a concert. These individuals don’t do this from disrespect, and contrary to what the perception may be, they do enjoy performances.

What They Do 

The Musical Autist offers programs facilitated by Board Certified Music Therapists, promoting their mission of autism acceptance and appreciation within communities. Their website (http://www.themusicalautist.org/sensory-friendly-concerts/) offers a list of sensory friendly concerts around the country. These are NOT therapy sessions, they are concerts accepting of differences individuals may have in how they express themselves. The Musical Autist performs in Maryland through two Troupes; ages 13 – 25 and ages 8 – 14.

What Else Should I Know

They are a 501(c)3 non-profit, meaning your charitable contribution is tax deductible to the IRS limits. They offer a FREE (10) credit CMTE course on Music Therapy and Neuro Ed – did I mention this is FREE to anyone?! If I’ve piqued your interest I encourage you to visit their site and subscribe to their newsletter. While there, check out their “Places To Go” recommendations – I’m a fan of anyone willing to share additional resources to help our community.

Disclaimer

I am not an employee of http://www.themusicalautist.org/ and any errors noted are my own.  If I have misrepresented, or misstated anything please provide constructive feedback so I may make the appropriate change(s). All opinions and views are my own.

SNT’s And Divorce

SNTs, or Special Needs Trusts, can play a HUGE role in divorces involving children with disabilities – regardless of age. Unfortunately, the type of Special Needs Trust may not be part of the discussion as it appears there is a lack of awareness outside of the Disability world of the different types and the impact each has on benefits.

Yes, both a 1st Party and a 3rd Party Special Needs Trust allow an individual with disabilities to accumulate more than $2,000 in assets – thereby maintaining their eligibility for SSI. However, and this is an important distinction, where the money is coming from matters.

For example – if your father/mother die and they leave money to your child, who has a disability and qualifies for a Special Needs Trust, how they title the money left behind will determine which type of Trust it needs to go into. If they name your child as the beneficiary, and then they die, this money will need to go to a 1st Party Special Needs Trust – your child needs to place the money into the Trust because it is now in his/her name. If your parents talk to you first, you can set-up a 3rd Party Special Needs Trust and have the money go directly into it; because it never became the possession of the child with a disability.

So how does this affect alimony or child support? Alimony and child support is for the benefit of someone. If that individual has a disability, when paid directly to them it will be counted as an asset towards the allowable limits for means tested benefits. For example, you divorce when your daughter is 15, and you and your spouse agree child support will be paid for the remainder of your daughter’s life because of her disability. Until your daughter turns 18 the child support will be paid to you, for the benefit of your daughter – but after 18 it becomes HER money, even if you have Legal Guardianship.

This child support will need to be paid directly to a 1st Party Special Needs Trust. The 1st Party Trust will shelter the money so Social Security does not count it towards the allowable limit of $2,000. An ABLE account will NOT provide the same protections, it wasn’t designed to. Neither will a 3rd Party Special Needs Trust – because the money is a resource of your daughter as soon as it is paid.

So when working with a divorce attorney and/or mediator and you have a family member with a disability who may qualify for Social Security or other means tested public aid, talk about Special Needs Trusts. If the attorney doesn’t seem to well-versed or familiar, bring someone else in – it’s that important.

Be Open

This week I attended the 20th Stetson Law Conference for Special Needs. I don’t practice law and I’m not an attorney, but a LOT of this material was relevant to me as both a Financial Planner and, more importantly (to me) as a parent. During the coming weeks I will share what I took away, I got home Friday (writing this on Sunday) and I’m still working to unpack everything – 23 pages of notes and much more downloaded content.

I had resisted attending this conference in the past because I didn’t believe I would get anything from it – obviously I was wrong. But how many of us resist or turn-down opportunities because we are “sure” they would be a waste of time/money? Maybe I’m the only one – but I doubt it.

I’m not suggesting everyone attend this conference, but what about listening to the podcast someone suggests or reading the article forwarded to you by a friend. Think of how many people there are in this world, and what they’ve experienced – is it really so far-fetched to believe someone else may have a good idea?

What about sharing your own experiences – not just what’s worked, but what hasn’t. Failures are opportunities to learn, and are only embarrassments if you allow them to be. So what if someone wants to “judge” you – why should you care?  And if you find yourself judging others ask yourself “how is this helping me?” Is it making you feel better about yourself?

Everyone struggles, some are weighted down more by their challenges than others. This isn’t to say one’s problems are worse or less than someone else’s. It’s to acknowledge what I believe is common ground – at one time, perhaps now, we’ve all felt overwhelmed and alone. Asking for help only works if you’re open to what is offered.

In many cases it’s likely someone has no clue what you’re dealing with, this doesn’t mean they cannot give you helpful suggestions by sharing how they coped with their challenges. For example, if someone shares they journaled when their cat died and it helped them cope with the grief; it doesn’t mean journaling would be useless for you because you just lost a spouse or parent.

I’m teaching myself to listen to the intent, not the tone or words. It’s been an uphill struggle, and I still find myself discounting suggestions out of hand much too often. But I’m a believer that being self-aware is the first step to any lasting improvement. So I continue to work on maintaining an open-mind, questioning my motivations when I discard ideas without weighing them first. I’m not suggesting we follow every recommendation, but I’ve come to believe if someone cares enough to offer an opinion (especially when asked) I owe it to them to listen. I encourage you to do the same.

Beware – You’ll Find What You’re Looking For

Have you ever met someone who, it seemed, could find the negative in ANYTHING? I’m not sure I was ever this negative, but I definitely struggled with keeping a positive outlook when I was younger. It felt like I could always justify my feelings, because it was so easy to point out how things didn’t go as I expected/wanted.

Over the years I’ve since learned it’s more about the lens you look through than what is happening. Yes, there are still horrible life events – my wife’s sudden illness and death being the most obvious case to me; but although these can (and likely will) be defining moments in your life they do NOT need to be the case study for how the world is, and always will be, a messed up place.

YOU control your narrative. We can, and should, control how we react. When I was younger I didn’t think I could – it was not uncommon of me to fly off the handle in reaction to something, regardless of how petty (in hindsight). My son’s disabilities have helped me change my perspective, because it has shown me crystal clear examples of what is beyond my control to change, yet absolutely within my control to moderate my reactions to.

I’ve taught (and continue to teach) myself to think before following through on my reactions. I still get the fight/flight/freeze responses, but now I have an inner timer where I’m counting down from 15 before I allow myself to react. There are times where I must (and do) react much faster, and conversely times when 15 wasn’t cutting it – I’m a work in progress. But I will not allow myself to fester in the depths of self-pity and anger that I gave control over in my teens, 20’s and 30’s.

What do you want from life? Do you enjoy being you? If the answer is “no”, what can you do to change? More importantly, what outside forces can you invite in to help you change? After all, if you could change on your own you likely wouldn’t be where you are now (IMHO).

Life is too short not to be enjoyed, and you spend too much time at work not to have fun. With this in mind I challenge you to think about how you can do both.

Home Equity Loan or HELOC? What’s the Difference?

Let’s start with when you should, and shouldn’t use either or both. If you are drowning in credit card debt and think this is a great way to get out – don’t (general rule). If you don’t change habits you’ll be right back where you are now in short order. This is a good general rule to follow for any debts, don’t pay them off through leveraging your house – it puts too much at risk. If, however, you want to update, renovate or other major home projects – either could be a great way to do so.

Home equity loans are lump sums of cash lent to the borrower based upon the value of the home when the loan is applied for. Generally this will not exceed 85% of the home’s value, which gives a little buffer in the event valuations drop and your home loses value – you may not immediately find yourself underwater. You and the lender will agree on a fixed interest rate (won’t change over the life of the loan) and the number of years to pay it back. The payment schedule is fixed, you need to make every loan payment on time or risk penalties.

A HELOC is a home equity line of credit – it works similar to a credit card. A credit card has a fixed limit you can use, so does a HELOC. You can borrow as little or as much as you need to up to this limit, although you’ll be charged interest on any outstanding balance. There is a key difference between a HELOC and credit card though – with HELOCs you will only have this line of credit available for a fixed period of time (usually 10 years). When this expires you will need to pay it back, plus interest – and you may not be able to get another HELOC until it’s paid off (will depend on the lender).

HELOCs have variable interest rates, so your payments may increase – especially when interest rates are rising. It’s important to know which benchmark the line of credit is tied to, this will give you a heads up if interest rates are coming. Each lender will have their own rules and/or minimums – for example you may need to use at least $5k when you first open it and at least $2,500 every time you access it going forward (values made up for illustrative purposes).

These are NOT “free” money! When borrowing against your house, you are giving the lender permission to take the house from you if you don’t pay your bills (loan payments). You are also required to pay these back in full if you sell your house – so if you have a mortgage and one of these, think about how you will put a down payment on a new home.

They do have a place, the interest is still tax deductible (2018) if used for home improvements. And if you’re a responsible lender a HELOC could be a great back-up to your emergency fund (not a replacement); or a place-holder while you save towards your emergency fund. If you’re considering one take into consideration what the payments will be and if you can reasonably afford them, especially HELOCs – interest rates won’t stay low forever and you don’t want to get caught off guard. Consider working with an Financial Advisor/Planner, get an impartial opinion about the impact on your financial wellness and ability to accomplish goals.