The Significance of the Disability Panel

Lawyers With Purpose attorney, Brittney Shearin, Esq. often gets questions regarding the disability panel, and when and how to use it. In this article she explains, that, although you may not use it very often, it is extremely helpful to have a disability panel in place for your clients should you ever need it. Your clients and their family members will be happy to avoid obtaining opinions from two licensed physicians as well as to avoid court intervention whenever possible.


Update on Implementation of Proposed Regulations

In response to an inquiry from Karen B. McIntyre of Veterans Information Services, Inc. regarding the proposed VA rulemaking AO73, Net Worth, Asset Transfers, and Income Exclusions, the following email was issued to extend – yet again – the date for possible publication of the final rule to April 2017. Victoria Collier has received confirmation that the proposed rule has not yet made it to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which will need to have its own review of the proposed regulations before they can become final.

Bigstock-Update-Concept-With-Hand-Press-120248195In a message dated 10/6/2016, writes:

RE:  VA rulemaking AO73, Net Worth, Asset Transfers, and Income Exclusions

Ms. McIntyre,

The rulemaking is not yet final.

Due to the complexity of the rule and the large number of comments received, we do not anticipate publication of the final rule before April 2017.

The draft final rule contains several changes as a result of some of the comments we received.  However, because it is still a draft and VA has not finally approved the changes, I can't share with you what those changes are.

My thanks to Marc MacKenzie for making me aware of this email.

Miscellaneous News From the VA’s Office of General Counsel

I attended a VA Accreditation CLE on October 13th at the State Bar of Georgia that included a speech by Christa Shriber, Deputy Chief Counsel of the VA’s Office of General Counsel (OGC). She provided some valuable information that benefits VA-accredited attorneys.

Ms. Shriber confirmed that when accredited attorneys charge fees for assistance with an appeal of a VA decision, there are two ways that fee agreements are to be submitted to the VA for consideration. For cases in which the VA is to directly pay the accredited attorney from the benefits owed to the claimant, the accredited attorney should file the fee agreement at a VA Regional Office specifically to the attention of the Agent and Attorney Fee Coordinator. Addresses for regional offices can be found on the VA website at You will also need to complete and submit form SF 3881, "ACH Vendor/Miscellaneous Payment Enrollment Form," to the fee coordinator for processing payment. In contrast, those cases in which the claimant pays the accredited attorney directly once the appeal is successful require the accredited attorney to file the fee agreement with the Office of General Counsel at 810 Vermont Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, 20420.

There is a special phone number for VA accredited attorneys to contact the VA for updates regarding claim status: (855) 225-0709. You may require your VA POA number, which would have been provided in your initial accreditation letter or can be found using the accreditation search tool at the VA webpage:

Finally, for those accredited attorneys out there who are overdue to submit their VA CLE/Certification of Good Standing, whether for initial accreditation or recertification, I recommend that you submit this ASAP. Ms. Shriber mentioned that the OGC was behind in reviewing current CLE and recertification status for VA accreditation, but that they were about to start reviewing the status of all currently listed accredited attorneys. Any accredited attorney who has not submitted their CLE or Annual Certification of Good Standing would receive a suspension letter. Thus, she recommended that anyone who might be behind should submit these right away to avoid suspension. If you're an LWP member, you can log into the members section of the website: webpage for further information regarding VA accreditation. Remember that after initial VA accreditation, attorneys must submit the Annual VA Certification of Good Standing every year affirming that you are an attorney in good standing, and every two years must complete a three-hour CLE pertaining to VA and submit a Biennial CLE Report.

If you would like to learn more about becoming a Lawyers With Purpose member click here to download our Membership Brochure – it will tell you everything you get and all the benefits of joining.

By Sabrina A. Scott, Paralegal, The Elder & Disability Law Firm of Victoria L. Collier, PC and Director of VA Services for Lawyers with Purpose.

Victoria L. Collier, Veteran of the United States Air Force, 1989-1995 and United States Army Reserves, 2001-2004. Victoria is a Certified Elder Law Attorney through the National Elder Law Foundation; Author of “47 Secret Veterans Benefits for Seniors”; Author of “Paying for Long Term Care: Financial Help for Wartime Veterans: The VA Aid & Attendance Benefit”; Founder of The Elder & Disability Law Firm of Victoria L. Collier, PC; Co-Founder of Lawyers with Purpose; and Co-Founder of Veterans Advocate Group of America.


It’s Not All About the Money: Determining “Non-Financial” VA Eligibility

When planning for a VA client, practitioners often spend the bulk of their time considering the claimant’s eligibility in terms of their net worth and income. And these are very important things to consider for VA non-service-connected disability pensions, particularly because the bulk of your clients are probably not initially financially eligible. Before you dive headlong into the numbers, though, remember that there are other requirements for eligibility that have nothing to do with money or finances.

In order to determine whether a veteran is entitled to a non-service-connected disability pension, you must consider his or her military service in terms of the wartime period, the minimum active-duty service requirement and the character of the military discharge. The requirements in these three areas in a nutshell are listed below.

Bigstock-Green-tick-sign-icon-d-40989001The veteran must have:

  • Served at least ONE DAY during a wartime period;
  • Served 90 days on active duty (not training);
  • Received a discharge other than dishonorable.

Wartime periods are defined by Congress, and most of the veterans you encounter will probably have served during World War II, or the Korean or Vietnam wartime periods.

World War II – December 7, 1941 thru December 31, 1946

Korean Conflict – June 27, 1950 thru January 31, 1955

Vietnam Era – February 28, 1961 thru May 7, 1975 (if in the Republic of Vietnam) August 5, 1964 thru May 7, 1975 (if serving anywhere)

The minimum active-duty service requirement is that the veteran must have served 90 days on active duty. What does active duty mean? It is defined in 38 U.S. Code §101(21) as full-time duty in the Armed Forces; as a commissioned officer of the Regular or Reserve Corps of the Public Health Service; as a commissioned officer of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; service as a military cadet; and authorized travel to or from such duty or service. The Armed Forces includes the five branches: Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard, as well as the Reserve in these branches. There are other categories of military service that I have not included here because they are not conventional and thus not as commonly encountered. For example, certain service in the military of the Philippines, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and the American Merchant Marine during WWII qualifies, as well as the work by certain civilians on Wake Island during the same period. Active duty does not mean any service related to training, such as active duty training or inactive duty training, neither one of which entitles a veteran to non-service-connected disability pension, no matter how much time is served.

Although there is a minimum active-duty service requirement that the veteran must have served 90 days on active duty, there is no minimum length of service required beyond that for veterans with active service prior to September 8, 1980. Therefore, for most of your clients who are veterans of earlier wartime periods, this will not be an issue as long as they served at least those 90 days. For those veterans with active service after September 8, 1980, the minimum service requirement for benefits such as health care and non-service-connected disability pension (with some exceptions) is 24 months or the full period for which a person was called or ordered to active duty, whichever is shorter.

The requirement for the character of the military discharge is that the veteran received a discharge other than dishonorable. The VA will consider a discharge as “under conditions other than dishonorable” if there are no statutory or regulatory bars to VA benefits in that particular circumstance. Statutory bars include when someone is discharged or released as a conscientious objector, because of a general court-martial, as a deserter, or as a result of an absence without official leave (AWOL) for a continuous period of at least 180 days. For example, if it is found that the person was insane at the time of committing the offense that caused such a discharge or release, then the discharge would not be considered a statutory bar. Another exception is for AWOL cases: If there are compelling circumstances to justify the absence without official leave, this may not constitute a statutory bar to benefits.

Regulatory bars include a discharge or release because of criminal offenses such as mutiny, treason, espionage or sabotage, but also for offenses involving moral turpitude, willful and persistent misconduct, or for homosexual acts involving aggravating circumstances or other factors affecting the performance of duty. It should be noted that the VA has proposed revising the last regulatory bar to change “homosexual acts” to “sexual acts.” Again, these regulatory bars may not apply if insanity can be shown to have been a factor when the offense was committed.

Things can become complicated when a veteran has multiple periods of active duty service and the character of the discharges varies. In general, if a veteran has a discharge that is other than dishonorable for a particular period of service, he/she might still be entitled to benefits on the basis of that term of service despite any later disqualifying discharges for subsequent service periods. However, serious offenses may forever bar a veteran from entitlement to VA benefits regardless of any honorable discharges for prior service periods.

For all the specifics regarding wartime periods, active duty service requirements and military discharge, go right to the source at 38 United States Code Part I – GENERAL PROVISIONS §§101 – 109 and 38 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) §§3.1 – 3.17, 3.40 – 3.41, 3.50 – 3.60.

If you want to learn more about Lawyers With Purpose and what we have to offer, download our Membership Brochure HERE

By Sabrina A. Scott, Paralegal, The Elder & Disability Law Firm of Victoria L. Collier, PC and Director of VA Services for Lawyers with Purpose.

Victoria L. Collier, Veteran of the United States Air Force, 1989-1995 and United States Army Reserves, 2001-2004. Victoria is a Certified Elder Law Attorney through the National Elder Law Foundation; Author of “47 Secret Veterans Benefits for Seniors”; Author of “Paying for Long Term Care: Financial Help for Wartime Veterans: The VA Aid & Attendance Benefit”; Founder of The Elder & Disability Law Firm of Victoria L. Collier, PC; Co-Founder of Lawyers with Purpose; and Co-Founder of Veterans Advocate Group of America.


I’m Disabled, Not Incompetent … Why Can’t I Establish My Own Trust?

Special needs trusts are an important tool in an elder care attorney’s toolbox. Established correctly, SNTs allow a person to qualify for public benefits such as Medicaid or SSI while maintaining assets in a trust to supplement the funds provided by such programs. First-party SNTs are established with funds that belong to the beneficiary. By placing the assets into a first-party SNT, the beneficiary can reduce his or her resource level to below the $2,000 required by Medicaid and SSI to qualify for benefits. Unlike SNTs established with third-party funds, a first-party SNT will include a government payback provision. Often, competent adults who have a physical injury or disease will want to establish first-party SNTs, with the appropriate government lien, for themselves.

Bigstock-Disabled-Athlete-With-The-Whee-85935989Since the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, it has been a legal requirement that first-party special needs trusts be established by a parent, grandparent, guardian or court. This requirement has caused some issue for competent disabled adults who wish to establish their own trusts, and it is in direct conflict with the pooled trust. Pooled trusts, which are special needs trusts run by a non-profit third party for a pool of beneficiaries who place their own funds in the trust, were permitted by Congress in 1993 as well. Because of these issues, the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act was resubmitted to Congress in 2015 asking for a law allowing competent disabled adults to establish first-party SNTs for themselves.

Currently, the act has passed the Senate and is now under consideration by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. As an issue of policy, it is highly likely the bill will pass a vote in the full House as well. Passing this bill will free up court time and resources and cut down on unnecessary costs for disabled adults. It will also offer us, as elder care attorneys, another option to provide clients who are receiving benefits and who inherit or are awarded a lump sum of money over $2,000. Imagine the convenience to our disabled clients of establishing their own trusts, picking their own trustees and having funds readily available for the remainder of their lifetimes to supplement their SSI benefits without the necessity of court intervention.

You can follow the progress of the bill on or contact your own representative to establish your support as an elder care professional by referencing H.R.670 – Special Needs Trust Fairness Act of 2015.  We will keep you updated at LWP as the bill continues to move forward becoming law and providing an exciting new opportunity for our clients!

If you would like to learn more about our Client Centered Software click here and we'll schedule you a live demo!  

Kimberly M. Brannon, Esq., Legal-Technical and Software Trainer


You Bet Your VA Life Insurance!

Among the benefits that veterans may access through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is life insurance. Considering the often-hazardous duty that veterans have encountered and survived, the VA’s life insurance programs are meant to offer a measure of financial security to the family for little or no cost. And proceeds from a life insurance policy on a veteran, no matter whether a VA policy or not, are not considered income by the VA, which can be a valuable benefit for a surviving spouse.

The various VA life insurance programs are listed below with the ubiquitous corresponding VA acronym.

  • Service members’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI)
    • Service members’ Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Protection (TSGLI)
    • Family Service members' Group Life Insurance (FSGLI)
    • Service members’ Group Life Insurance Disability Extension (SGLI-DE)
  • Service-Disabled Veterans’ Insurance (S-DVI)
  • Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI)
  • Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI)

Bigstock-Soldier-And-Doctor-Shaking-Han-83552111As the names suggest, not all of these life insurance programs are meant for veterans. The only ones that are available to veterans are the last three. The first four programs are applicable to active service members or their dependents. Specifically, Service members' Group Life Insurance is term life insurance coverage for eligible service members that extends until 120 days after separation from service. Coverage under SGLI is $3.50/month for increments of $50,000 up to a maximum death benefit of $400,000 at a maximum monthly premium of $28.

Apart from basic SGLI, there are three versions of SGLI for specific circumstances. For an additional $1 premium per month, Service members'’ Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Protection (TSGLI) provides for a benefit paid in life if the service member suffers a loss due to traumatic injury like amputation, blindness, and paraplegia. There is also SGLI for dependents called Family Service members' Group Life Insurance (FSGLI). And the Service members' Group Life Insurance Disability Extension (SGLI-DE) is an extension of coverage for up to two years if the service member is totally disabled at separation.

After eligible active service, only veterans, and not their dependents, have VA life insurance options: the Service-Disabled Veterans’ Insurance (S-DVI), Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI), and the Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI). Veterans who receive a new service-connected disability rating have two years to apply for Service-Disabled Veterans’ Insurance (S-DVI). A “new” service-connected disability rating does not include an increase of a previously held rating, nor a rating of Individual Unemployability, which is a special rating under which the VA can pay 100% of full disability compensation to someone whose service-connected disabilities are not rated at that level. Basic coverage under S-DVI, which offers both term and permanent type plans, starts at $10,000, and supplemental coverage can be purchased up to $30,000. If the new service-connected disability began before the age of 65 and lasted six consecutive months, the premiums for the first $10,000 in S-DVI coverage are waived.

For any service member who was covered by a SGLI policy during active duty and does not want to lose that coverage beyond the given 120 days after separation, there is the option of converting SGLI to a Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) policy or even to a commercial policy. VGLI is a term life insurance product that provides lifetime coverage as long as the premiums are paid. Coverage can be the same amount as the original SGLI policy or can be reduced by increments of $10,000. Once enrolled, you can increase coverage by $25,000 every five years up to a maximum coverage of $400,000

The final insurance program available to veterans is Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI), which is specifically for severely disabled veterans who have received a VA Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant to help build, remodel, or purchase a home, have the title to the home, and have a mortgage on the home. There is also an application deadline of age 70. A VMLI policy provides coverage equal to the amount of the mortgage still owed, up to $200,000, and is payable only to the mortgage holder. It is a decreasing term life insurance that reduces as the mortgage balance declines.

There is a convenient tool called Overview of VA Insurance Benefits created by the VA that allows you to pick the insurance program and then get further guidance on specific program eligibility. If a service member is qualified for SGLI, he or she, along with their non-service-member spouse, is automatically enrolled. To qualify, the applicant has to be an active-duty member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard; a commissioned member of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the U.S. Public Health Service; a cadet or midshipman of the U.S. military academies or the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) engaged in authorized training and practice cruises; or certain reserve members.

Veterans, on the other hand, must complete applications for VA life insurance products. Complete and file form VA Form 29-4364 for Service-Disabled Veterans’ Insurance (S-DVI) or apply online at Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) requires completion of VA form SGLV 8714 or an online application at the Prudential website: Finally, one can only apply for Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI) by completing VA form 29-8636.

If you would like to learn more about becoming a Lawyers With Purpose member consider joining us in the room the week of October 24th – October 28th in Houston for The Law Profit Summit and the Tri-Annual Practice Enhancement Retreat.  We promise it WILL change your practice!

By Sabrina A. Scott, Paralegal, The Elder & Disability Law Firm of Victoria L. Collier, PC, and Director of VA Services for Lawyers with Purpose.

Victoria L. Collier, Veteran of the United States Air Force, 1989-1995 and United States Army Reserves, 2001-2004. Victoria is a Certified Elder Law Attorney through the National Elder Law Foundation, Author of “47 Secret Veterans Benefits for Seniors”; Author of “Paying for Long Term Care: Financial Help for Wartime Veterans: The VA Aid & Attendance Benefit”; Founder of The Elder & Disability Law Firm of Victoria L. Collier, PC; Co-Founder of Lawyers with Purpose; and Co-Founder of Veterans Advocate Group of America.

Bigstock-Broken-Wedding-Rings-19863971 (1)

Does Your Trust Really Have Remarriage Protection?

As a lawyer practicing in the elder law and estate planning industry for 25 years, I'm always intrigued by what lawyers refer to as remarriage protections. Remarriage protection relates to the provisions that one puts in a trust to ensure after a spouse dies and a surviving spouse remarries (or cohabitates) that the underlying estate plan of the deceased spouse is honored and maintained. The truth is that trust systems in the estate planning industry have little, if any, remarriage language or protections. The general protection that trust systems provide for remarriage is that if a spouse remarries, they allow you to discontinue payments of interest or principal to that spouse, and that's usually limited to the context in a family or marital trust. Wow, that's remarriage protection?

Bigstock-Broken-Wedding-Rings-19863971 (1)Hardly. In the Lawyers with Purpose Client Centered Software (LWP-CCS) system, there are layers of remarriage protections available to the client. First and foremost, the trust system tracks all of the benefits granted to a surviving spouse as you design the plan and import data into the trust system. Second, the trust system tracks all of the authority that you give a surviving spouse as trustee, trust protector, etc. Third, the LWP-CCS system allows you to identify what your client considers to be “remarriage.” In our default definition, the language identifies that a spouse will be deemed to be remarried after cohabiting for one night. The software also allows you to customize your own definition of remarriage, and once that definition is triggered you are then allowed to customize which of the powers or benefits that you have granted a surviving spouse will be modified or eliminated, along with any conditions for reinstatement.

For example, if a surviving spouse has been named trustee, the software knows that and asks you if you want to remove the right of the surviving spouse to be trustee upon marriage. Secondly, the trust software tracks all beneficial interests of the surviving spouse, and if you elect to have remarriage restrictions, the software will show you all the different places where the surviving spouse has retained a right to benefit from the trust. It will also ask if you want to minimize or eliminate any of those benefits individually, not collectively. That is, you can pick and choose which ones stay and which ones go.

Does this seem too good to be true? Well, it is if you have regular software, but the LWP-CCS software has been designed around the needs of the client, not the lawyers. The good news is, once you identify the needs of the client, the software will put in the necessary legal language to accomplish the objectives that you have identified for the clients. This is what being a Lawyer with Purpose means, and this is what client-centered software is all about. Don't go it alone. Let Lawyers with Purpose show you how to do real remarriage protection planning for clients.

If you aren't a Lawyers With Purpose member and are even thinking about adding estate or elder law to your existing practice, or want to make your estate/elder law practice more efficient, join us in the room in Houston this October 24th and 25th. Click here for the full agenda and to discover more of what you'll get from this program!

David J. Zumpano, Esq, CPA, Co-founder Lawyers With Purpose, Founder and Senior Partner of Estate Planning Law Center


How Do You Plan For Blended Families?

There's a great buzzword out there in estate planning called planning for “blended families.” The term “blended families” represents individuals who are married but have previous marriages or relationships that resulted in children. One example would be a second marriage in which the husband and wife have children from a previous marriage, or one does and one doesn't. The question becomes, how do you plan for these individuals so they can provide for each other but still be confident that in the end, their children or beneficiaries will get what's legally entitled to them?

The challenge with blended family planning is that the spouses “trust each other” to carry out their wishes. The problem is, life doesn't often work out that way. After the death of one of the clients, the relationship between the surviving spouse and the deceased spouse's family tends to become more remote and diminished. As a result, over time the surviving spouse may forget or no longer wish to follow the planning as originally intended, or may no longer deem it relevant based on the new circumstances. More importantly, even if the surviving spouse did wish to follow the original plan, circumstances may occur that put the assets in danger. The surviving spouse might need a nursing home, or might face a lawsuit, or might remarry to another individual who could gain power of attorney and modify the planning after the incapacity of the original surviving spouse. There are so many complications in blended families, but there doesn't have to be.

Bigstock-Blended-Family-Word-Cloud-105173693The Lawyers with Purpose Client-Centered Software (LWP-CCS) system is designed to plan for each client’s individual needs and goals, including blended families. The LWP-CCS has extensive provisions that allow designation of particular assets, allocated and separated at the death of the first spouse for the benefit of the surviving spouse under the terms and conditions that the clients agree to. This permits the surviving spouse to continue to benefit from the deceased spouse’s assets until the conditions are met for the next stage of the planning to occur. For example, in many of our trusts, clients elect to have a trust for the surviving spouse terminate upon the spouse's remarriage or another terminating event as identified by the couple. Although this seems complicated, it's actually easy when you ask your clients. They are pretty clear on what they want. They're just looking for some guidance on how to accomplish it.

Perhaps the greatest final significance of using the LWP planning solutions for blended families is to protect the deceased grantors' assets from the surviving spouse’s unintended or unforeseen creditors and predators. This by far has had the greatest impact for my personal clients over the last 25 years of my planning for them. Unfortunately, too many lawyers today use the standard boilerplate trust, and most trust systems in the industry do not permit attorneys to do any extensive planning once prepared for blended families without expensive post-merge modifications.

That's why Lawyers with Purpose is different. Because we focus on purpose first, the software has been designed to always consider the client's needs, goals and wishes first, then the software puts in the appropriate legal language to accomplish those objectives. Although it sounds counterintuitive, it's actually easy, fun and valuable to the client. I actually have clients laughing as we design their plans; do you? If you want to learn more about how Lawyers with Purpose can help you plan for blended families in ways you never knew existed.. consider joining us for THE estate planning event not to be missed!  

Member click to register here.

Non-members click to register here.

David J. Zumpano, Esq, CPA, Co-founder Lawyers With Purpose, Founder and Senior Partner of Estate Planning Law Center


Lessons from Braiterman

Well, here we go again. On July 12, a New Hampshire Trial Court ruled that an irrevocable trust was an available resource. Or did it? A careful examination of the Braiterman case really comes down to three issues. The first was an imaginary stretching of the "any circumstances" provision in Medicaid law. The second was an imaginary stretching of "trustee's powers," and the third, superfluous language added by the attorney that had no legal relevance to the trust document.

I believe, however, that the superfluous language had the greatest impact on this court to find a way to make the trust assets available.  The good news is that this case is neither precedent setting not universally applied. Let us take a look at the faulty (weak) holding. The crux of the court’s argument is that, under 42USC1396P(d)(3)(B), "if there are any circumstances under which proceeds from a trust could be made to or for the benefit of the applicant, then the irrevocable trust is deemed available for purposes of determining eligibility for Medicaid."  Interestingly, it was clear under the trust terms that there were not any circumstances under which the payment from the trust could be made available to the beneficiary applicant. In fact, the court highlighted that the language specifically said that the trustees cannot make any distributions of income or principal to the grantor.

Bigstock-Pupils-raising-hand-during-geo-83001707The court, however, focused on superfluous language in the trust stating that, if at any time during the lifetime of the grantor, the grantor could lose eligibility for benefit because of the existence of this trust, then it was the grantor's “request” that the trustee consider bringing action to terminate the trust and to distribute the trusts corpus to the beneficiaries (again, NOT the grantor). Continuing, the trust stated that the grantor “hoped” that the people who received the trust corpus would use it for her benefit. The superfluous language goes on explicitly to identify the grantor's disability, or need for income. The imaginary stretch by the court here is that, although the attorney added this language that the court hangs on, in fact, there's no legal authority to enforce it. Under most states’ laws, termination of an irrevocable trust requires the consent of not only the trustee, but also of the grantor and the residuary beneficiaries; state law determines whether an irrevocable trust can be terminated, not a trustee. The only authority granted to the trustee in this trust was to bring an action to terminate the trust and distribute it to the beneficiaries.

So there's a double faux pas here; first, there is a presumption that the trustee has the unilateral authority to terminate the trust. Second, there is an enormous leap by the court in deciding that, because the grantor added the language “hoping” for the beneficiaries to use the proceeds for her, that there in fact actually is a legal obligation or even a legal authority to consider it required, so as to make the assets declared available to the grantor. The mistake by the court here is that any access to the trust income or principal is NOT contained within the four corners of the trust, but rather is a stretch to what a beneficiary will choose to do with trust assets after receiving them (which, by the way, is no longer a trust asset!).

The court notes that in her capacity as trustee, the grantor had authority without limitation to "terminate the trust by distributing the principle and accumulating income of the trust fund if in her judgement she might lose eligibility to substantial cash benefits or medical or other services. Again, the court stretches and fills in this imaginary chasm with rationale that indicates that there's actually legal authority for the trustee to do this. In fact, the court alludes that the grantor not being named a trust beneficiary is not dispositive, and held that because there is "any circumstance" that would permit the grantor to get the proceeds, then it was countable. In this fact pattern, the court argued that, since it could be distributed to the children and there was no prohibition on the children to distribute it back to the grantor, the court could infer that there is a circumstance in which the grantor could benefit. This is troubling, as there is no basis, no background and legal support of language anywhere to support this other than the court's opinion.

So what does this case tell us? First and foremost, it affirms what we already know: that a lot of courts do not like Medicaid planning. And that's OK. Second, it tells us attorneys that adding superfluous language that does not relate to the legal provisions of the trust has absolutely no legal impact on the trust terms, but in every contrary case decided up to this point, including Braiterman, it is proven to be the words hung on by the court to disallow planning for people who engage in Medicaid planning. I have been a longtime advocate of Medicaid planning, but more importantly, proper Medicaid planning. When following the rules, individuals who give away their assets are subject to the lookback period and potential imposition of ineligibility based on any uncompensated transfers. The law anticipates this, provides for it, and has clearly stated it. The challenge here is when courts usurp the law and assume information that is not legal or based on legal principles. I fully expect this case to be overturned on appeal, but nonetheless in a state like New Hampshire, a more liberal state, anything is possible.

The good news is the Lawyers with Purpose Client Centered Software (LWP-CCS) system has specific language that would nullify the court's holding in this case. In addition, Lawyers with Purpose attorneys are trained never to add superfluous language that does not relate to the legal terms of the trust. It is when lawyers forget that trusts are legal documents and entities, much like an LLC, that we get cases such as Braiterman. For example, in an LLC operating agreement, would you allow the owners to have rights to pay their medical expenses if they went into a nursing home? Obviously it's silly, but a trust is no different; it's a separate legal entity and should be respected as such. Attorneys must ensure that all of the provisions and terms relate to authority of the trustee to administer the trust and make distributions to the intended beneficiaries, and should in no way ever suggest or provide that trust principal be available or used for the grantor if it is an irrevocable trust intending to exclude its assets from consideration for Medicaid eligibility.

Interestingly, on the same day this case was released, I was notified once again by an LWP member in Florida that the Florida Department of Medicaid upheld a Lawyers with Purpose trust that provided that the grantor was trustee and that all assets in the trust were deemed unavailable. So before we jump off any bridges based on the Braiterman case and give up our Medicaid practices, understand your jurisdictions, understand your job as the attorney and, as we focus on at Lawyers with Purpose, always be an advocate for your client using the law, and keep your superfluous language out of it.

Registration for THE estate and elder law event not to be missed is open!  Grab your seat today before early bird pricing ends on September 5th. Click here to register now.

David J. Zumpano, Esq, CPA, Co-founder Lawyers With Purpose, Founder and Senior Partner of Estate Planning Law Center