Inertia

I’ve been thinking a lot about inertia, and the impact it can have on one’s life, family and career. The picture I chose only tells half the story, inertia’s definition (Webster) is “a property of matter by which it remains at rest or in uniform motion in the same straight line unless acted upon by some external force.” Or in simpler terms, things staying exactly as they are until someone does something to change this.

How does this impact our life, family and career? How many of us have maintained the status quo because we were too afraid or just comfortable? I know I’ve been guilty of this, and if I’m being honest with myself; still find myself going with the flow because it’s “easier”. I’ll tell myself I don’t have the bandwidth to take anything else on, but I believe differently.

My life will not get any easier if I wait a few weeks, months or years. All I’m doing is allowing myself to become more comfortable with how things are – and making it much more difficult to gain enough momentum in another direction to overcome inertia. There is nothing wrong with being satisfied with where you are; I only have an issue with accepting where you are because it’s too much work to do anything else. I struggle to explain the difference – it boils down to have you achieved what you set out to achieve, or did you “give up” because it got too difficult or you lost sight of your original vision.

I have found life has a funny way of offering scenarios of “good enough”; where you have struggled for a while and found a plateau which, on the surface, appears to have everything you’re looking for. I haven’t found my true peak,  yet. As I come to each plateau I find myself wanting more.

Here’s where inertia comes into play. Giving myself enough of a push to let go of what is comfortable to reach the next level. It also means acknowledging there will be “speed bumps”; after all, I’m a single father of a child with disabilities and he will always come first. But, and this is a HUGE caveat in my mind; there is absolutely no reason for me to allow myself to become stagnant while helping him on his journey. I should, and for the most part do, continue looking for ways to overcome inertia so when (not if) the opportunity to complete the next part of my journey presents itself I am ready and only need to give myself a small nudge, rather than a hard shove.

I’d like to challenge all of those reading this post to look inward. Have you accomplished what you truly wanted to? If you have, take pleasure in having overcome the obstacles I’m sure you had to best. If you haven’t, what can you do to shift from an object at rest, to an object in motion in the direction you most desire?

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Self-Directed Advocacy Network of Maryland

I’ve only recently become aware of the Self-Directed Advocacy Network of Maryland, Inc (SDAN); and it gives me significant hope and excitement because my son and I have every intention of self-directing our services. For those not familiar with disability services, self-directed means (overly simplified) individuals  can pick and choose for themselves who provides which services and controls the funding paid for those services.

Who They Are 

Self-Directed Advocacy Network of Maryland, Inc is a group of participants, families and advocates for Self-Directed Services (SDS) in Maryland who have banded together to raise awareness and advocate to Maryland’s Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) and state lawmakers to uphold the right to self-determination for people with disabilities. They serve as a united voice for individuals and families, offering another (not necessarily “better”) way to receive services.

What They Do 

They have created cost effective individualized programs complying with the Federal Medicaid Guidelines; and they work WITH DDA to maintain person-centeredness and family involvement. They are an advocacy agency, and you can find the 8 Points they use to clearly state their key talking points around advocacy here.

 

What Else Should I Know

Although SDAN is a non-profit, and is funded through grants and donations; you can also support their mission in non-financial ways. Their website has a list of (14) non-financial opportunities, and I’m certain this only scratches the surface. The biggest step is just getting involved. They have regional meetings, which would be a great first step to learning more about SDAN. Find a meeting close to you here.

Disclaimer

I am not an employee of Self-Directed Advocacy Network of Maryland, Inc; 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.

Adult Disabled Child Benefit

Social Security offers special benefits for those who were found to be disabled (meeting Social Security’s definition)  before the age of 22. In certain circumstances the child – which could mean adopted child, stepchild, grandchild or even step grandchild – may be eligible to be paid on a parent’s (grandparent’s) Social Security earnings record. In my experience the easiest way to prove this is applying for SSI when the child turns 18, IF the child has a significant disability limiting his/her ability to work. I will ALWAYS encourage individuals to work if they are able, because it ultimately provides much more freedom (my opinion).

These benefits are paid on the parent’s earnings, so it is not required for your child to have earned any credits. There is a catch – the child cannot have “substantial earnings” – in 2018 this means they cannot be working and earning more than $1,180/mth. As with any program, there are exceptions; but rather than try to explain them please check out Social Security’s pamphlet on “Working While Disabled“. Another caveat – if the individual marries he/she may lose their benefits; again, there are exceptions and the best source is going to be the Social Security Administration.

A frequent question I get is “will my child’s payout affect the amount I receive?” Short answer – no, generally not. However, Social Security does have a family maximum payout, which is usually between 150 – 188% of the worker’s basic Social Security benefit. The formula is complex, and if you’re interested here is a link to a Social Security Bulletin explaining it (Vol 75 No 3). What I would like you to take away is this – in MOST cases there should not be an issue; but if you have any doubts or concerns the Social Security Administration, or an attorney specializing in disability benefits, is your best resource.

Another benefit to someone receiving adult disabled child benefits, if they were previously approved for SSI – they become eligible for Medicare after they’ve received the adult child social security benefit for (2) years. This is another complicated area, and best left to a discussion with a professional – but it’s important to know the option exists. Here is a link to Social Security’s overview of Medicare.

I didn’t do as deep a dive as I normally try to, because there is so much complexity with Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. I do not want anyone to rely solely on something I’ve written to decide if they should apply or not; or what benefits they are eligible for. The options I advocate for are (1) talk to an attorney specializing in disability law and/or (2) contact your local social security administration office.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

I’m hoping to bring some clarity to what SSI is, and isn’t, for families with disabilities. It’s not a magic bullet, it doesn’t pay for everything. But for those with little to no other resources, or the ability to earn a sustainable wage, it can be a life line. It’s also NOT money provided by our Social Security taxes – it’s paid by general tax revenues.

In Maryland, and many other states, eligibility for SSI automatically grants Medicaid to the beneficiary. If you’re not sure if you’re state does, Elizabeth Dickey’s article provides a great breakdown (Disability Secrets). The financial benefit is $750/mth (single) and $1,125/mth if individual has a qualified spouse. It’s meant to pay for food and lodging, and there are limits to how much you can earn, and how much you can maintain in assets.

2018’s earning limits = $17,040; and SSI payments will be phased out as you reach this limit. There are programs to enable individuals to work while still collecting SSI. Rather than trying to explain it all here, please follow this link (SSI and Work). My personal bias – if you, or your family member, can work – they should. Paying into the system allows them to start earning credits towards retirement; among many other benefits.

If you have a child who you think will qualify for SSI – apply as soon as possible. Until the child is 18, determination will be made based upon your household’s income and assets. As soon as they turn 18 this changes to the individual’s income and assets; so apply on their 18th birthday. You’re going to need to be able to prove the disability, and the individual’s inability to perform any gainful employment – so keep ALL  your documents. I used Google Drive, as well as keeping hard copies.

I also hired a disability attorney. I met mine through networking, but looking online led me to the American Bar Association’s lawyer finder. I can’t attest to how easy it is to use, and my preference remains getting a referral from someone who has already been through the process successfully. You’re going to want to keep all your original documents; and be patient – the process can take several months.

Next week I’ll take a deeper dive into the additional benefits your child becomes eligible for if they are approved for SSI before the age of 22. I’ll also explore things to consider when planning – but this is a broad sweep. I can’t take into consideration individual’s circumstances. Bottom line, SSI is a critical tool for those who need it – but in my opinion it shouldn’t be viewed as the best, or only, go to.

 

 

Trusts Are NOT Plans

All too often I will have someone tell me they have a “plan”, because they’ve gotten the their Special Needs Trust. Setting aside, for the moment, my concerns their Special Needs Trust will work as they want it to, this is NOT a plan for the future.

All too often I will have someone tell me they have a “plan”, because they’ve gotten the their Special Needs Trust. Setting aside, for the moment, my concerns their Special Needs Trust will work as they want it to, this is NOT a plan for the future. It is a tool to be used in the implementation of their plan. A 3rd Party Special Needs Trust, or Supplementary Needs Trust, is an approved vehicle for individuals with disabilities to accumulate money without risking their Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicaid benefits.

If you have a Trust, you should also be clear on how you are going to fund it – life insurance, investments, etc – taking into account what other resources may be available (SNAP, SSI, etc). This is where working with a Planner helps – they bring an impartial point of view and, provided they are familiar with Special Needs, may be able to introduce you to resources you may not have considered or knew about.

The CFP (Certified Financial Planner) Board has outlined (6) financial planning subject areas; and although not all-inclusive they should give you an idea of what a plan consists of. These areas are (para-phrased, follow link above to get full breakdown): Cash flow/budgeting; risk management (insurance – homeowners, life, etc); employee benefits; investments; income taxes; retirement and estate planning.

Trusts fall into estate planning, and even then this isn’t the only thing to consider when developing an estate plan. This isn’t meant to imply a financial planner will do everything in this list themselves; more than likely they will have a team of experts they work with/refer to. This is how I work, I recognize my limitations and rely on the knowledge of those who have dedicated their careers to a particular field of study – like income tax or estate planning.

There are other types of Trusts, including a 1st Party Self-Settled Special Needs Trust – if you want more information/details about what makes Special Needs Trusts a “safe” place to save money, or if you should have a Trust, or anything in a similar vein – then find a Special Needs Planning Attorney. I am NOT an attorney and this is not an area I will give advice. The two sources I use are the Special Needs Alliance and the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

As I’ve said before – you don’t have to work with a financial planner, or any other professional. There are plenty of resources (good and bad) available if you want to do everything yourself. The value, in my opinion, of working with any professional is two-fold. First, this is what they do all day, every day – they should know it inside and out. Second, they have the benefit of not being emotionally invested, meaning they can provide an objective point of view, even if it’s not what you want to hear. If you’re interested in a Special Needs plan, or you just have questions – schedule a call with me; it won’t cost you anything.