Monday, May 14, 2018

Considerations in the Purchase of Personal Residences for Beneficiaries Living with a Disability

By Erin Sunday, CTFA
Vice President - Senior Special Needs Trust Services Advisory Specialist 
Wells Fargo Wealth Management

Having a safe, comfortable, and appropriate living arrangement is important to an individual living with a disability and can lead to a higher quality of life.  The decision to purchase or build a residence to be owned by a trust should be the result of a collaborative discussion between the beneficiary and the Trustee.

There are many considerations in the process of purchasing a home for a beneficiary.  The first step is to determine an appropriate budget for the acquisition which includes the purchase price, transactions costs, any renovations required to accommodate the special needs of the beneficiary (i.e. the construction of an accessible bathroom, ramps, flooring, elevators, structural changes), the on-going carrying costs of the residence (e.g. real estate taxes, homeowner’s insurance, maintenance, HOA dues), ensuring the budget does not impact the ability to provide for other needs of the beneficiary over time, and any requirements of the trust document, state law, public benefits regulations, and/or court oversight.

As a best practice, it may be helpful to have an assessment completed by a care manager to help ensure any proposed home meets the needs of the beneficiary.  It is also important to discuss with the beneficiary (and anyone else living in the residence) what the expectations are surrounding the payment of utilities, general maintenance of the property (e.g. mowing and leaf and snow removal), and if there is a requirement for rent to be paid by any non-beneficiary residing in the home.  The ability of the school district the home is in to provide for the needs of the beneficiary should also be considered.

The Trustee’s role after the residence is purchased does not diminish.  The Trustee must ensure that all real estate taxes are paid, proper insurance coverage on the residence is maintained, any and all contractors are licensed and insured, and that the home continues to meet the needs of the beneficiary. 

A best practice can be use of an Occupancy Letter between the Trustee and the beneficiary and/or other family members living in the home.  The letter can clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each party (financial and maintenance), who will be living in the home including pets, how home ownership may impact an individual’s public benefits, and outlines who to call in case of an emergency.

While the purchase of real estate from a trust does require careful consideration, providing a personal residence can be an important part of helping create a better life for an individual living with a disability.

Investments in securities and insurance products are: NOT FDIC-INSURED/ NOT BANK-GUARANTEED/ MAY LOSE VALUE. Wells Fargo Wealth Management provides products and services through Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. and its various affiliates and subsidiaries. Wells Fargo Bank is the banking affiliate of Wells Fargo & Company.

This article was written and provided courtesy of Erin Sunday, Vice President - Senior Special Needs Trust Services Advisory Specialist, Wells Fargo Wealth Management of Camp Hill, PA at 717-730-3383.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Will a Settlement Affect Disability Benefits?

By Joanna Seidman Wynes, Esq.
Settlement Planner, The Settlement Alliance

When a disabled individual anticipates receiving a recovery in a personal injury settlement, questions often arise about existing disability benefits. Will accepting money from an injury settlement affect a claimant’s disability benefits? Is the type of disability benefit relevant? Keep reading to find out.

SSDI vs. SSI: What is the difference?
There tends to be some confusion surrounding Social Security Disability (SSD or SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). It is important to distinguish between the two, because not only does each have unique eligibility requirements, but the manner in which they are viewed when it comes to settlement is vastly different.

Social Security Disability (SSD/SSDI) benefits are available to disabled individuals who have worked and contributed to the Social Security trust fund via FICA tax. In some instances, a disabled individual may receive SSDI benefits as the result of Social Security contributions from their spouse or their parents. SSDI is considered an “entitlement benefit.”

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federally funded supplemental income program that provides financial assistance to low-income disabled, blind, and aged individuals. SSI is considered a “needs-based” government benefit.

How does a settlement affect each of these benefits?
Individuals who receive Social Security Disability (SSDI) have essentially met eligibility requirements by paying into the social security system and by being classified as disabled by the Social Security Administration’s standards. A personal injury settlement will not affect SSDI benefits; however, a workers’ compensation indemnity settlement may impact these benefits as discussed in further detail below.

On the other hand, one of the main eligibility requirements for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is an asset test. In fact, assets as low as $2000 can disqualify an individual from receiving SSI benefits ($3000 if married). Accepting a cash settlement would likely disrupt SSI eligibility.

Strategies for Protecting SSI Benefits
Many disabled individuals who are involved in personal injury settlements find the loss of government benefit eligibility catastrophic. Necessary expenditures such as surgical procedures, prescription medications, therapy, home modifications, and skilled nurses can quickly eat up settlement proceeds. Most simply cannot afford to lose access to their needs-based government benefits.

A special needs trust (SNT) is a type of trust specifically reserved for disabled individuals that allows them to access their settlement proceeds within the trust to pay for their needs. At the same time, by placing settlement proceeds into an SNT, a disabled person may be able to preserve their eligibility for SSI benefits.

SSDI and Workers’ Compensation Benefits
It is important to note that if the injury or illness is work-related, workers may not be eligible to receive the full amount of SSDI benefits and their full workers’ compensation benefits simultaneously. Social Security will calculate the reduction of SSDI benefits, called an “offset,” based on a combination of factors that may vary by state. Diverting a portion or all of the settlement proceeds into a structured settlement annuity may help a workers’ compensation claimant minimize the impact of a reduction in SSDI benefits.

In Conclusion: Be Mindful of Timing
To help prevent the loss of benefit eligibility, the full scope of a claimant’s government benefit eligibility should be determined as early as possible in the settlement process. Furthermore, the earlier the claimant is presented with their various options for settlement, the better chance they have of making informed decisions that will help them preserve both their settlement and their government benefit eligibility.

Joanna Seidman Wynes, Esq. and The Settlement Alliance are proud Platinum Sponsors of Maryland Association for Justice. The Settlement Alliance provides comprehensive settlement planning services including structured settlements, trust planning, government benefit preservation, attorney fee deferrals, qualified settlement fund & claims administration, lien resolution, Medicare Set-Asides, non-qualified settlements, and bankruptcy & probate coordination. For more information, visit or contact Joanna at

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Maryland Association for Justice Announces New Executive Director

Maryland Association for Justice Announces New Executive Director
Contact: Elisha N. Hawk, MAJ President,

The Maryland Association for Justice (MAJ) is pleased to announce that its Board of Governors has unanimously approved a transition in leadership at the association. Alison Dodge, who has been serving as MAJ’s Interim Executive Director since May, will become Executive Director, effective immediately.

Ms. Dodge is an experienced association professional who has been with MAJ for four years, previously as Director of Membership and Communications. Since joining MAJ in 2013, Ms. Dodge has advanced numerous organizational initiatives, including expanding member services, improving communications, and diligently working with MAJ’s volunteer Sections and Committees to move the organization forward.

 “The Board has been thoroughly impressed by the confidence, passion, and leadership Alison has shown at MAJ,” said Elisha Hawk, MAJ President. “As we celebrate our 63rd anniversary as an organization dedicated to improving the civil justice system, we look forward to working with Alison to advocate for the values upon which MAJ was founded.”

Before joining MAJ, Alison served as Director of Communications and Membership for Maryland Nonprofits, as well as in leadership roles at the Community Foundation of Howard County and Jewish Community Services. She is an active member of the National Association of Trial Lawyers Executives and the American Society of Association Executives. Alison has become known for her poise, her dedication to forwarding MAJ’s mission, and her ability to successfully communicate and work with MAJ’s donors, sponsors, and members across the state. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

On behalf of the officers, board of governors and staff, we are all looking forward to this new chapter in MAJ’s rich history.


About the Maryland Association for Justice
Originally founded as the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association in 1954, the Maryland Association for Justice (MAJ) is the preeminent specialty bar association in the state representing plaintiff attorneys and those that work to uphold the civil justice system. MAJ represents over 1,200 trial attorneys throughout the state of Maryland. MAJ advocates for the preservation of the civil justice system, the protection of the rights of consumers and the education and professional development of its members. You can follow MAJ on Twitter (@mdforjustice) or LinkedIn, or become a fan on Facebook at

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Bad for Business: Using Free Email - Hotmail, Yahoo!, Gmail, etc.

By Ray Smith, JustRight Technology

Sure it’s free, but you often get what you pay for. Consider:

Hackers Love Free Email Accounts 
Hackers focus on free email accounts like Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo! because they are millions of users. They use automated to tools to attempt to guess passwords on thousands of accounts every day. And if hackers gain access to your email account, they can use it to send scams, spam, and worse to your list of contacts. How would that look to clients, vendors, and business associates?

Free Email Says “Unprofessional” to Prospective Clients 
It has become expected to have a domain name for your business. If you’re using a free email service you might be sending the wrong message to colleagues, clients, and potential clients:
 Your company cannot afford a domain name and a professional website with email
 The email you sent is coming from your personal email account and not your business account
 You are not organized or professional enough to get a domain name for your company
 You are not concerned with privacy

Your Email Is Likely to be Mistaken as SPAM 
Most SPAM filters these days are looking for free email account email addresses like Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo!. The reason is that spammers typically use free email accounts to send spam. It is easier to setup a free email account and it doesn’t cost them a dime.

You Are Missing Out on a Valuable Marketing Opportunity 
When you use your company’s domain name in your email, you’re continually presenting your company name over and over again. If you use a free email service like Gmail, you are essentially putting a sign for somebody else’s business over your front door. In other words, you are advertising for Gmail and not your own business.

It’s not expensive to purchase your own domain name. If you already own a web site, you already have a domain name! It’s not expensive to set up a professional email service to use your domain name. I use and recommend Microsoft Office 365 business plans. They’re month to month, professional, and include anti-spam. Search the web for “Office 365 business plans” to see pricing on Microsoft’s site. Your current email, contacts, and calendars can be migrated and your old free address forwarded, so you don’t lose anything. And it’s easy to have your email, contacts, and calendars perfectly synced with all of your devices: smart phones, iPads, and/or tablets. You end up safer, look more professional, are more efficient, and more “future proof”.

About the Author 
Ray Smith is the founder and CEO of JustRight Technology, an approved Microsoft Cloud Services Provider. JustRight focuses on helping 5 to 50 user law firms with computer systems advice and support, and cloud and VoIP solutions. If you’d like help, or just have questions, visit JustRight at, call Ray directly at 443-478-4298, or email him at

Monday, October 10, 2016

California Woman Sues Johnson & Johnson, Claims Company Failed to Warn that Talcum Powder Products may be Linked to Ovarian Cancer

The Yost Legal Group recently published a blog post about how talcum powder from every day products made by companies like Johnson & Johnson may contribute to 
ovarian cancer. The article goes on to say:

"Thousands of pending lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson allege that the company failed to warn their customers about the potential link between regular use of talcum powder for feminine hygiene purposes and an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. The most recent talcum powder ovarian cancer case against Johnson & Johnson began this week in St. Louis, MO." 

You can read the full article here!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Heads up, drivers: New laws take effect in Maryland on Saturday

Washington Post came out with a recent article on new laws that affect DUI & DWI charges.

"Get ready, Washington-area drivers. Maryland has some new driving laws on the books, starting Saturday:

Noah’s Law: Named after Montgomery County police officer Noah A. Leotta, who died after being hit by a drunk driver, the law expands the use of ignition interlock for impaired motorists and significantly increases the driver’s license suspension period. An ignition interlock prevents a vehicle from starting if it detects a certain level of alcohol in the driver’s breath and retests the driver at random points while driving." Read the full article here!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Congratulations to Emily Malarkey & Dale Adkins!

Congratulations to MAJ members, Emily Malarkey and Dale Adkins, on receiving a successful verdict for their client: an auto mechanic who was misdiagnosed and underwent a major operation and consequently suffered more pain. 
Read more about their victory here