Disability Housing

Lately I’ve heard, and been involved in, a lot of discussions centered around housing for individuals with disabilities. Solutions range from homes owned by a trust to entire communities built and run by non-profits, with a host of other options in between. According to the Social Security Administration, the principle place of residence is not considered as a countable asset when applying for Social Security benefits; so wouldn’t it make the most sense to just have the individual with a disability own the property – voila, problem solved! Right?

Wrong, because although the property does not count as an asset in the eyes of Social Security; if it is owned by the individual with a disability it is their asset – they will have full responsibility for it. This can be a liability and a concern for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, who may not understand what they are liable for. So other solutions need to be found.

Group homes used to be the only way to go if you didn’t want to use an institution or have the child live with you. Now, laws have been passed limiting the number of individuals allowed to live in a house – eliminating Group homes. Although it is no doubt a scary proposition for families, it should be seen as a positive. Individuals with disabilities have a right to their privacy, when they want to eat, etc; just as much as those without disabilities do. The obvious exception is if they are at risk of causing harm to themselves or others, but again this isn’t limited to individuals with disabilities.

So what are families to do? The Center for Independent Futures offers a variety of solutions, and although they are based in Illinois their ideas may be applied anywhere. As with anything else, people need to be aware of potential pitfalls. If a special needs trust owns the house property tax waivers may not be provided, requiring the trust’s assets to be used to pay taxes. Families who own properties through a LLC may find they cannot recoup their investment when they are ready to leave, because they have to find someone to buy them out. These are just a few examples, and are NOT meant to discourage anyone from using these models. It’s strictly to ensure people understand the PROS and the CONS; because I’ve found often the PROS are stressed and the CONS glossed over.

I encourage parents and families to download the free guide (click here) The Center for Independent Futures offers (it comes in Spanish as well) and discuss what will work given their circumstances. The worst thing to do is nothing. Talk to the family member with the disability, determine what they want – really listen. If they don’t want a roommate, or a roommate with a disability, respect their wishes. When exploring options don’t hesitate to seek out professional advice – it’s unrealistic to think you will be able to do all of this on your own; and frankly  you shouldn’t have to. This is new ground for all of us, the landscape continues to evolve and I for one am very excited about the opportunities it presents for my son!


Live Abundantly

My son’s 17th birthday came and went this past weekend, and it gave me pause to reflect – where have the last 17 years gone – four of them since his mother passed. I feel good about how the most recent four years have been spent, but I couldn’t always say that. I used to seemingly live for work, allowing it to define who I was and losing sight of what really mattered. For me, the wake-up call was when the ER doctor told me my wife had had 6 strokes – I could feel the world come to a screeching halt as my priorities shifted.

It’s too easy to develop and live with a scarcity mentality. Convincing yourself there’s not enough time, or it’s not worth the effort so why bother. This comes into play in all aspects of our lives – as friends, spouses, and parents – to name a few roles. Some of it I think comes from fear, fear of the unknown and fear of failure. After all, if we don’t try then we can’t fail – and nobody can fault us. After all, we’re busy – we have careers and families that take all our time. But do they? Are we really “present”, or are we going through the motions? Marshaling our energy for when it’s truly needed, for that “thing” that really matters. But how many of us follow through and let go?

Living abundantly isn’t about spending thousands of dollars for the lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of, it’s about making the lifestyle you have align with those dreams and celebrating what you’re doing as you do it. It’s about shifting your perspective, instead of complaining about what’s not going well, celebrate what is. I’m not suggesting turning a blind eye to all of life’s negativity, but understand it’s going to be there whether you celebrate the good or not, so why let it anchor you down.

Make time for those in your life that mean the most to you. Do it for yourself, as a way of saying thank you for everything they’ve done for you. Accept life has challenges, and sometimes it feels like they’ve gotten the best of you. By having an abundant mentality you won’t have to force yourself to get out of bed to face the day when this happens; instead you’ll be eager to get up to put it behind you – because you KNOW you’re going to be successful.

That’s the key – believe in yourself. Realize that although there are only so many hours in the day, you control them. Days only feel longer when you focus on what you don’t think you can do or make excuses. Give yourself permission not to have all the answers, while forcing yourself to find someone who can provide those you don’t have. Eventually it’ll become second nature and your “bad” days become more like a bumpy road than a brick wall.

Risk Management

This month (September, 2016) my firm is focusing on Risk Management, with the idea to raise awareness and decrease the number of people who only consider what they are paying each month, rather than what they need to protect. I have no issue with people accepting risk, but I’m concerned too many of us don’t understand what we’re accepting responsibility for when we decrease coverage or increase deductibles.

Those who have served in the military have likely heard the term ORM (operational risk management). I picked the picture above because it shows most of what you can do with risks – which is what ORM explained (or used to, not sure if it’s still in use). This post will explain each of the five options – retention, avoidance, sharing, reduction and transferring – using real life comparisons.

First – retention. This means you accept all the risk, and associated consequences yourself. If your home has a fire or you’re in an accident, you pay for all repairs and replacements out of your pocket. This can get incredibly expensive, and should generally be weighed against the probability of an event and the potential cost. For example, not purchasing flood insurance because you live in the middle of Texas. Sure there is a potential a river or something similar could flood, but the probability is low. However, if you lived along the coast of Louisiana or Florida there is a much greater chance of flooding, and you should own flood insurance – in fact if you live along a flood plain you may be required to purchase it.

Avoidance is just what it sounds like, you avoid the risk all together. An example of this would be never owning/driving a car; so there is no risk of you being found liable in a car accident. This can be difficult, because many of us will have to face some risk as we progress through life – moving out of our parents’ house, buying/leasing a car, having children or pets, etc…

Sharing the risk means you’re lessening what you are responsible for. Car, renters and homeowners insurance are examples of this. You maintain a deductible, which is your share of the risk. Anything between the deductible and the max limits of your policy the insurance company pays for. When the policy’s limits are exceeded it either falls back on you, or is protected by an Umbrella Liability policy – until that limit is reached and then it’s back on you. This is where advisors and financial planners help people – by helping their clients identify how much of the risk they can not only accept, but afford as well.

Transferring the risk means somebody else assumes full responsibility. In the insurance world this would be life insurance. There is no “deductible”, you’re not paying a set amount and then the life insurance policy pays the rest. You are paying an insurance company to accept the risk of you dying, which is why term insurance is so much cheaper than permanent – by it’s very nature term insurance isn’t designed to protect you forever, the insurance company is not on the hook for your entire life. Most of the other types of insurance share the risk – you are required to pay a set amount of the cost or wait a certain number of days to be paid.

Reducing the risk is taking measures to lessen the probability of an event occurring. Staying or getting in shape reduces the risk of disease and obesity. Observing rules of the road and posted speed limits reduces the likelihood of an accident and/or ticket. These things are also rewarded by insurance companies. More and more health insurers are giving credits for quitting smoking and gym memberships; and auto insurers offer safe-driver discounts.

Pretty simple, right? None of the terms are super complicated, so why do people get into trouble? Because all too often they worry about how much something is going to cost, rather than what it really means. If we would take a moment to consider what the possible consequences of our actions are, I think many of us would make different decisions. Oh, we’re still going to think we’re invincible, but we’d acknowledge we have no control over everybody else – and if for no other reason that one is why we want to protect ourselves. Maybe we’re still not reading our policy declarations, but now we at least ask the agent we’re working with to give us an overview of what’s covered and what’s not – and we listen. Don’t let your risks be managed by what everyone else is, or isn’t doing. Take the time and do an inventory, what can you live without and what is important enough to protect.