Special Needs Attorney Testifies Before Congress

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Richard A. Courtney, President of the Special Needs Alliance (SNA) and principal in the Courtney Elder Law Associates section of Frascogna Courtney, PLLC, testified Friday, September 18 before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Health in favor of the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act (H.R. 670). The bill would enable mentally capable adults with disabilities to establish "Special Needs Trusts" (SNT) on their own behalf. SNTs are a means of protecting eligibility for assets-based programs such as Medicaid and SSI (Supplemental Security Income), while holding funds for expenses that those programs fail to cover. The same measure was approved unanimously by the U.S. Senate on September 9th.

Richard Courtney told the Subcommittee members that the legislation that originally created Special Needs Trusts (SNTs), the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, "included a drafting oversight that seems to assume that a person with disabilities lacks the requisite mental capacity to enter into a contract… We believe it was … not the intent of Congress to deny a basic right to individuals with disabilities."

In its report on the testimony, The (Jackson, MS) Clarion-Ledger's "Courtney testifies before Congress on behalf of persons with disabilities," said that, at present, special needs trusts funded with assets of an individual with disabilities must be created for that individual by his or her parent, grandparent, legal guardian or a court. Because of this requirement, adults with no living parents or grandparents and no guardian are forced to petition the court to create a special needs trust.

Courtney based his remarks on both his professional experience as a special needs and elder law attorney, as well as his experience as the father of a daughter with cerebral palsy and learning disabilities. Speaking of daughter Melanie, he noted that she needs and is receiving attendant care under a Medicaid waiver program. Because the cost of her care and services is expensive, she must rely on programs such as Medicaid, as do many persons with disabilities.

Right now the law says that she can't create her own trust if she were to receive an inheritance or settlement—so she could forfeit her Medicaid waiver benefits that pay her attendant to her each day for a few hours.

An SNT would allow Melanie to pay for additional health care that's not covered by Medicaid, in addition to basics like clothing, transportation, and furniture.

Talk with an elder law and special needs attorney if you have questions about SNTs.

Reference: The (Jackson, MS) Clarion-Ledger (October 18, 2015) "Courtney testifies before Congress on behalf of persons with disabilities"

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