Estate Planning: Helping Protect Your Interests

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

Misty A. Watson

Misty A. Watson

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

Misty A. Watson

Misty A. Watson

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

Misty A. Watson

Misty A. Watson

The elderly, blind, and individuals with disabilities will now find it a little easier to qualify for Medicare 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

Misty A. Watson

Misty A. Watson

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

Misty A. Watson

Misty A. Watson

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 »

Lessening the Stress of Travel for Travelers with Disabilities

Misty A. Watson

Misty A. Watson

Flying can be a frustrating experience for anyone, but for those with disabilities it is even more difficult. Knowing what rights a passenger with disabilities has is the first step to ensuring the next flight is as stress-free as possible.

Booking a Flight

When booking a flight, travelers with disabilities are generally not required to provide pre-flight notification with a few exceptions:

  1. Traveling by stretcher;
  2. Using an electronic wheelchair (or other device with special batteries); or
  3. Requiring connection to the airplane’s oxygen system during flight.

If none of these categories apply, the airline cannot deny travel for not being informed of a passenger with a disability’s travel plan. However, notifying the airline may ensure any desired accommodations are met with less stress on the day of travel.

Federal law has made provisions for people with disabilities who want to travel by airplane through the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) of 1986. The ACAA required the Department of Transportation to develop regulations to ensure non-discriminatory treatment of travelers with disabilities.
Note: While travelers with disabilities do have accommodations for air travel under the ACAA, they are not required to accept any or all accommodations.


Travel With an Attendant

Each airline determines whether an attendant is required, except in the following situations, which always require an attendant: Continue reading »

Powers of Attorney v Guardianships

Misty A. Watson

Misty A. Watson

When your child turns eighteen years old, he or she is considered a legal adult. As an eighteen year old, he or she has the ability to contract, to make decisions such as whether he or she wants to continue to go to school, and whether a parent can be present in an IEP meeting. Further, because of HIPAA privacy rules, a doctor can no longer communicate with the parent regarding that child’s health issues. For families with a child who has special needs, they must make some critical decisions in order to protect their child who is turning eighteen. Two options for these families are seeking guardianship through the court or having the child sign a power of attorney, if appropriate.

Guardianships are a process through the court by which persons are declared incapacitated to the extent that they are unable to make their own decisions regarding medical care and placement, and an individual is appointed by the court to act in their stead. Since the court regulates the guardian, this process can become a costly affair and is a much longer undertaking than a power of attorney, especially if the appointment of a particular guardian is contested.

Conservatorships are formed whenever persons are declared unable to handle their own assets. If a guardianship is granted, a conservatorship will also typically be granted. If the person who was declared incompetent by the court has assets, the court will monitor the appointed conservator and will require annual reports regarding the use of the assets by the conservator to be filed by an attorney.  In order for a guardianship or conservatorship to be set aside, the incapacitated person must petition the court to have his or her legal rights restored and must demonstrate the previously incapacitated person is no longer in need of a guardian or conservator.

Continue reading »

U.S. Court of Appeals Decision Favors Student Who Brought IDEA Claim

Misty A. Watson

Misty A. Watson

The United States Court of Appeals, in March 2010, voted in favor of specialized children in the case, Compton Unified School District v. Addison. This case upheld the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which ensures children with disabilities have access to a free appropriate public education (FAPE).

In Compton, Addison, the student, received very poor grades and scored below the first percentile on standardized tests during her ninth-grade year in 2002-2003. The school counselor promoted her to tenth-grade, despite her low performance.

During the fall semester of her tenth-grade year, in 2003, Addison failed every academic subject. Addison’s mother was reluctant to have her child tested, and the School District did not require it. Instead the School District referred Addison to a third-party counselor who recommended the School District assess Addison for learning disabilities. The School District ignored this directive and promoted Addison to the eleventh-grade.

In September 2004, Addison’s mother explicitly requested an educational assessment and Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting from the School District. The assessment took place and Addison was found eligible for special education services on January 26, 2005, which was during the spring of her eleventh-grade year.

Addison and her mother brought the claim against the school district seeking compensation for the School District’s failure to identify her needs and provide her with a free appropriate public education.

The school district argued two issues: the first is that the IDEA’s written notice procedures limit the jurisdictional scope of the due process complaint procedure and the second is that they did not receive “clear notice” of the availability of an administrative hearing in “child find” cases. The court rejected the school district’s first argument contending that the Supreme Court has already addressed this issue. The Supreme Court has stated that a conservative reading of the IDEA would leave parents without an adequate remedy if a school district fails to identify a child with disabilities. Regarding the second issue, the court additionally struck down the school district’s argument of “clear notice” finding the IDEA clearly allows complaint “with respect to any matter relating to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child.”

The court’s decision in this case provides fuel for other parents to seek compensation for a school district’s failure to identify children with disabilities in the educational system.

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The Importance of Care Plans & Beyond

Misty A. Watson

Misty A. Watson

A care plan is written information about how to best care for your child’s health needs. A care plan may include specific medication your child takes and the time they take it, particular foods your child should avoid, how often your child gets physical therapy, or what to do for your child in an emergency.

Care plans share information with others who take care of your child. This may include doctors, nurses, therapists, emergency medics, teachers, child care providers, respite providers, grandparents, friends, and neighbors.

An estate plan is much more than a will. An effective plan considers your personal circumstances and goals. The more important purposes of estate planning include protecting your assets during your life, planning for possible disabilities, and ensuring your wishes are carried out both during your life and after your death. Estate planning also includes planning for various health-related contingencies so your wishes are clear even if you cannot make decisions for yourself in the future. Here is a sample Care Plan for your child.

Download full Special Needs Advocate Newsletter (PDF)