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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My Special Needs Child is Turning 18

I often ask clients who are parents of a special needs child, “Have you decided who will be responsible for your child’s financial and healthcare decision-making after their 18th birthday?” 99% of the time the response is, “What are you talking about? I’m their parent so I will be the decision maker after they’re 18… (long pause)… right?” Wrong.


In Pennsylvania the law states that a person reaches the age of majority (adulthood) upon their 18th birthday whether they have special needs or not.  What this means is that when your special needs child turns 18, the Commonwealth considers them adults capable of making their own decisions. But what if they can’t?


An adult with special needs is considered incapacitated if they are unable to evaluate information and communicate decisions effectively, or are impaired to the extent that they are partially or totally unable to manage financial resources or meet the essential requirements for physical health and safety.


If your child is deemed incapacitated, then as their parent or legal guardian, you can petition a court to assign Guardianship for them. There are two kinds of guardianships: a Guardian of the Person, who provides shelter and makes the necessary healthcare decisions; and a Guardian of the Estate, who controls the financial decision making. A court will decide what is in the best interest of the incapacitated person and choose who the guardian(s) shall be. This process takes time and can be fairly costly, so parents are counseled to begin preparing for a guardianship situation about 6 months prior to their child’s 18th birthday.


If your child is considered to have legal capacity, then they can assign their financial or healthcare decision-making (or both) to whomever they choose through Powers of Attorney documents. Most often a child will choose their parents to be powers of attorney and there is a smooth transition upon their 18th birthday. Powers of attorney take much less time, effort, and expense for the family.


Whether you think your special needs child needs guardianship or powers of attorney, knowing that you can still be legally included and involved in the decision making for their life will provide you with peace of mind as you approach their 18th birthday.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Here's at Least One Thing That We Have in Common with The One-Percenters


I was fascinated by a recent New York Times article that talked about the one thing that common folk and millionaires alike agree on:  they don't want to talk about death or inheritance.  What was particularly stunning to me was that most of the people in this survey had already gone to the trouble of creating a will, yet most agreed that they were not likely to talk to their kids about it!  Why go to all of that trouble, and then risk leaving behind a chaotic mess?

The vast majority of my own clients tell me they want two things out of an estate plan:  they want to keep it simple, and they don't want the kids to fight.  If that's the case, then by all means, BEGIN THE CONVERSATION.  Whether that conversation is one-on-one, or guided by a professional, it is the very first step toward building a legacy plan that reflects your values.  It is one of the greatest gifts of love you can give your children.



Friday, September 12, 2014

David Siegel to speak on Special Needs Planning at the CGRC Fall Fest October 5th

Interested in Special Needs Planning, or know someone who might be?  Then consider coming out to the Child Guidance Resource Center's Fall Festival on Sunday, October 5th where HLO Attorney David Siegle will be discussing critical planning initiatives for parents of special needs children.  Discover:

  • How you can protect your special needs child into adulthood,, even if you become incapacitated
  • Who can help provide care 
  • Who can help them manage their finances  
  • The best way to ensure that they will continue receiving vital benefits regardless of whether or not they receive an inheritance! 

The festival runs from 1-6pm, with David's presentation running from 2:30 - 3:00.  David will also be available before and after the talk for questions and discussion.  

The Fall Fest will be held at the beautiful Fellowship Farm, located at 2488 Sanatoga Rd, Pottstown, PA.  In addition to David's workshop the festival will feature:

*  Live music
*  Petting zoo, nature hunts & ropes courses
*  Healthy food and drinks
*  Low-stimulation nature trails & pond area
*  Quiet, indoor art & reading activities
*  Educational workshops & speakers for parents,, and more!

For more information:
Call: 484-454-8744
email: info@cgrc.org
Visit: cgrc.org/about-us/actvities-and-events/fallfest

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Self-Settled or Third Party Special Needs Trusts, which is Best for Me?

Special Needs Trusts are designed to provide additional financial support to a person with a mental or physical disability. There are three basic categories of special needs trusts: Self-Settled, Pooled, or Third Party special needs trusts. This  article will explore the features of self-settled and third party trusts; which comprise the majority of special needs trusts drafted today. Pooled trusts are not commonly used as they involve the pooling of assets from multiple trusts for investment purposes and do not always qualify as a special needs trust.


Special needs trusts provide you the option of utilizing them in conjunction with or in lieu of government benefits to provide for the needs of your disabled loved one. If you choose to use a special needs trust in conjunction with government benefits, a vital detail to remember is that the trust should “supplement” and not “supplant” those benefits.


Self-Settled Trust: Self-Settled trusts are a product of federal law 42 U.S.C. § 1396p (4)(d)(A), which is sometimes known as either a “(4)(d)(A)” or “payback” trust. The main features of a self-settled trust are:

  • The trust can only be established by a parent, grandparent, guardian or court order;
  • The trust is funded only with the assets of the disabled person;
  • The beneficiary can only be the disabled person;
  • The trust must be set up only as an inter vivos trust (during the life of the donor);
  • The trust must only be irrevocable; and
  • When the disabled person passes away, any unused assets remaining in the trust must be used to “payback” the government for any Medicaid benefits the disabled person received during their life.

While the self-settled trust is appropriate in certain situations, its lack of flexibility can be a drawback that would not make it an applicable choice for some families.


Third Party Trust: The third party trust is most commonly used by parents who are establishing a means to provide supplemental financial support to a child with a special need. The key features of a third party trust are:

  • The trust can be established by anyone other than the disabled person;
  • The trust can be funded with the assets of anyone other than the disabled person;
  • The beneficiary of the trust can be the disabled person, any nondisabled person, or a charity;
  • The trust can be set up as an inter vivos trust or as a testamentary trust (at the death of the donor);
  • The trust can be revocable or irrevocable; and
  • When the disabled person passes away, any unused assets remaining in the trust do not refund the state agency for benefits received and pass to other beneficiaries according to the trust language.


Either trust, if properly planned and drafted will serve the function of providing supplemental financial support for a loved one with a special need; the choice on which to use should be based on your own personal situation and needs.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


There’s a story that estate planners have been telling clients for years about the need for people to have at least the basic documents (a will) of an estate plan prepared, just in case. Here’s how it goes… James Dean was an actor in the 1950’s. He starred in movie classics such as Rebel without a Cause, Giant, and East of Eden. James was raised by his aunt and uncle after he was abandoned by his father as a baby and he had no relationship with his father by the time that he became a star. Dean’s movie career was cut short in 1955 when he was tragically killed in a car crash, creating the pop culture legend of James Dean that still survives 60 years later.


Dean’s estate generates approximately $1-3 million annually through the licensing of his likeness on merchandise and in commercials. That’s about $120 million dollars over the past 60 years. And who owns the rights to his likeness and runs his estate? His father, not the aunt and uncle who raised him since he was a baby. Why? Because when Dean died back in 1955 he had no estate plan, not even a will, and he died intestate. Under California and most States’ intestate laws, Dean’s father (as his closest living blood relative) was entitled to the estate. How fair was that?


But that was 60 years ago, surely people have learned from Dean’s mistake, especially celebrities with a high net worth. Wrong. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Oscar winner for his title role in Capote, passed away earlier this year and because he didn’t have an updated estate plan, two of his three children will be left out of inheriting their portion of his estimated $35 million estate. So even though he had an estate plan, he never updated the plan, and because of that two of his children may get nothing.


Protect your family, protect your loved ones, protect your assets, protect yourself. If it can happen to movie stars who are surrounded by lawyers, managers, agents, accountants, and assistants, then it can happen to you. But it doesn’t have to happen to anyone. A properly planned and updated estate plan will help you avoid costly mistakes like Dean’s and Hoffman’s.

Thursday, August 7, 2014


August is here. That means the summer is winding down, fall is in the air, and children all over the country are starting to head off to college. They have packed up all the things they will need when they are away at school. As parents, you’ve doubled checked to make sure they haven’t forgotten anything important. But are you forgetting something? Probably.


When we send our kids off to college we worry that they will be happy; we worry that they will healthy; we worry that they are safe; we worry. We are not their landlords any longer, but we will always be their parents. We believe that if our child gets hurt when they are away at school, we will automatically be contacted by the school or the hospital or the doctor. We are wrong.


Almost 20 million students were enrolled in college in 2009 and 99% of them were age 18 or older*. Legally, that 99% of college students are adults and their parents are now no longer able to make medical decisions or have access to the health information for them. Your son or daughter is only 18, they’re still a child in your mind; you are their parent and you want to be informed if they are sick or hurt. You can.


There are two documents that every student should have prior to going off to college: a Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA) and a HIPAA release. When your child is unable to make medical decisions on their own, due to incapacitation, the HCPOA provides you with the ability to make those decisions in their place. The HIPAA release allows the hospital or doctor’s office to legally discuss your child’s private medical information with you so that you can have the knowledge to make the right choice for their care. We all want our children to go to school and have happy, healthy, and safe experiences; the Health Care Power of Attorney and the HIPAA Release are two legal documents that provide you with the peace of mind that you can be there for your children when they may need you most.


* Statistics provided by the US Census Bureau data for 2012

Thursday, July 31, 2014


Pets are more than furry companions; they are part of the family. And just like other family members, more and more Americans are looking for ways to care for their pets after they pass away. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are 70 million pet dogs and 74 million pet cats in America. Should we have to abandon or put down our pets just because we pass away, or should we just assume that our children or a friend will take in our pets? We shouldn't have to wonder what will happen to Fluffy or Spot, we can now plan for their care with a Pet Trust.


All across the country more and more states have passed laws that allow for Pet Trusts to be set up for the care of our beloved animals.
Read more . . .

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Learning More about Wills and Trusts Lawyers in Pennsylvania

Residents of Pennsylvania often find themselves procrastinating, even if they know the importance of meeting with a wills and trusts lawyer.  The whole subject just seems so complicated, and there are certainly more enjoyable ways to spend one’s time then pondering death and taxes.  The fact that things can be really confusing seems to give us all the encouragement we need to just tell ourselves that we’ll take care of the estate planning stuff “later.”

Of course, you know what I’m going to say next!  You never know when “later” is going to make an appearance, and if you’re not set up in advance, all the legal advice about wills and trusts in the world won’t be of any help.  Yes, this truly is something you need to do in advance.  Perhaps demystifying some of the terms involved with wills and trusts will give you the confidence you need to take the next step.

Read more . . .

Friday, May 9, 2014

Thank you to all Lehigh Valley ACE Advantage™ members who were able to join us for the Annual Client Meeting!

Thank you all Lehigh Valley ACE Advantage™ members for joining us at our Annual Client Meeting.  In addition to a delicious dinner at Shula's Steak House, ACE members Millie Xu and her daughter, Jenny Bai treated us to a facinating presentation about Millie's remarkable life story, and how events in her life culminated in the creation of the Live Wright Society.  We were particularly impressed with Live Wright's Legacy message:  

"Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones.  

A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.

-- Shannon L. Alder"

We couldn't agree more, Millie.  Thank you for delivering this thought-provoking message!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Discuss Your Social Security Options With An Estate Planning Attorney

For many older clients in Bucks and Montgomery Counties, Social Security benefits represent a very large portion of their post-retirement income.  Because of the way that the system has changed since it was originated in 1935, it is extremely complex.  Literally hundreds of amendments have been made in the nearly 80 years since the Social Security Act.  It just may take an experienced lawyer to wade through the options with you.

And just what kind of options are you looking at?  There are a lot of them to consider.  While there is certainly good information to be learned from others who have already been through the process, it could be a big mistake to simply take someone else’s word about what is the best approach to take.  After all, what is right for one family or individual may not be best for another.

For example, did you know that you might not have to quit working entirely in order to begin collecting Social Security benefits?  A lot of people are not aware of this, and it can have a huge impact on their income levels.  There are at least four ways that a person can receive his or her Social Security, and that’s just for those who are not married.  Married couples find that they have a total of 16 different options.  Again, having an experienced attorney go over all of the options is a good way to maximize the options available to you.

Speaking of married couples, chances are that the wife will survive the husband and then be eligible for his Social Security benefits.  This is very important, as almost a quarter of widows and other single female seniors live below the poverty line.  For this reason alone, the responsible thing is for a couple to spend a little time with the estate planning attorney in order to put together a comprehensive plan that will cover either spouse in the event that the other passes away.

While self-sufficiency is certainly an important part of our culture, decisions regarding retirement and estate planning are some that really should be informed by a knowledgeable professional.  Estate planning attorneys are well-versed on how Social Security works and are able to provide solid advice on how to get the most of what you deserve.  In this day and age, it’s pretty simple to get on the Social Security Administration’s web site and start submitting requests without having enough background information and knowledge to make the best choices.

When it comes to Social Security and things like Medicaid benefits, there is too much at stake to risk not hiring an estate planning attorney.  Whether you will be living strictly off of your Social Security benefits, or they will be used in other ways as a part of your long-term retirement plans, this is not an area to take lightly.

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HighPoint Law Offices assists clients with Estate Planning, Probate and Estate Administration, Medicaid Planning and IRA Preservation in Chalfont, Pennsylvania and surrounding areas including Bucks, Montgomery, Philadelphia, Lehigh, Monroe and Northampton Counties.

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