From how to transition a special-needs teenager to young adulthood, to keeping up with the changing needs of an elderly parent, and everything in between, the Firm has a more advanced talent than the typical law firm: Three exceptionally experienced senior attorneys, one associate attorney and our caring and accomplished staff.
I hate to post such upsetting news, but bad people are part of the world we live in. We can't let them paralyze us and cause us to trust no one, for then they "win" by ruining our lives. But it is a reminder that reasonable prudence is the order of the day. Here's the story.
Indiana attorney Kenneth Service stole at least hundreds of thousands of dollars from the special needs trusts (SNTs) he managed for numerous clients with severe disabilities. I guess I should say "allegedly stole" to be safe but it does not really appear to be in question. I don't know if he will ever be able to repay the funds. But at least there has been some justice. He was disbarred from the practice of law, and the latest news is that he has now been arrested for the theft of those funds. After warrants for his arrest were issued by two different Indiana courts, Mr. Service was taken into custody and held without bond on October 2, 2018.
Mr. Service has been either involved or charged in a related string of cases. He has been accused of felony theft in three separate Indiana jurisdictions after authorities discovered that hundreds of thousands of dollars were stolen from some of his clients’ SNTs. The first criminal case against him was filed in December 2016 in Lawrence County, where he was charged with stealing more than $85,000 from two clients. The police officer investigating those allegations against Mr. Service believed it possible that he had “numerous victims in multiple states.”
That belief bore out with additional charges filed against him in June of this year. The Indiana Lawyer.com wrote that those charges, filed in Delaware County, alleged Level 5 felony theft for stealing $23,622 from a former client under guardianship. More charges were filed in Franklin County on September 18, alleging that Mr. Service committed Level 5 and Level 6 felonies. He is accused of stealing more than $102,500 from one client who was also under guardianship.
The first warrant for his arrest was issued on September 17 in Franklin County. A second arrest warrant was issued two days later in Delaware County when he failed to appear for a pretrial conference. Mr. Service is representing himself against all the charges. According to The Indiana Lawyer.com, he is scheduled for jury trial in Delaware County on October 29 and in Lawrence County on November 27.
Mr. Service also was implicated in the case brought against the ironically named National Foundation for Special Needs Integrity, the pooled SNT he founded. In National Foundation for Special Needs Integrity, Inc. v. Reese, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the trust to repay the deceased beneficiary’s family $234,181 that it wrongfully retained, following an admission by Mr. Service that he “intentionally intended to confuse” government officials.
Parents of special needs kids have a particularly difficult decision in naming those who will look out for their child when they (the parents) are incapacitated or dead. Who will do a good job of being not just a trustee, but a special needs trustee? The latter involves all of the requisites of being a good trustee, but also (1) technical and practical understanding of the various public benefits rules, and (2) that something extra, that something that makes the trustee someone who really looks out for the beneficiary and is pro-active about using the trust to give the beneficiary the best life possible; something more than sitting in a glass tower, watching investments, filing taxes, and having the Trustee Committee review requests for expenditures each month.
I will tell you from hard experience that family members, no matter how well intentioned, no matter how competent at money management, frequently do a poor job. We find that it is often better to put them in a supervisory role of one kind or another over a professional trustee.
Professional trustees cost money, yes, but it truly is a lot of work and really well worth it to get the job done right and relieve family members of the headache. If clients ask us about professional trustees, we have an in-depth discussion with them about what goals they are trying to achieve with the selection of trustee. The choices of professional trustees include: large to small institutional trustees such as banks; large to small law firms; large to small accounting firms; and some financial advisors (many are restricted by their firms or professional licensure from serving).
There are pros and cons to each. A large institution has deep pockets to cover mistakes, and is highly unlikely to ever engage in theft. On the other hand, many large institutions are no longer serving as trustee of SNTs, and in our experience the ones that do are just as prone to errors as smaller trustees, and smaller trustees tend to be ones with more of the "something extra" that parents are looking for.
The bottom line: (1) This isn't easy. Parents have to take care in choosing trustees. (2) Design your estate plan thoughtfully with your attorney; it is a lot more than filling in a few blanks on some papers. Should someone be appointed to watch over the trustee? Will that overseer have adequate powers to deal with a trustee who is acting suspiciously? What happens if overseer is no longer able to function as overseer? Remember, these trusts need to last for decades after you are gone!
President Donald Trump signed legislation late last week to reauthorize funding for the Federal Aviation Administration for five years. Contained within that package are an increase in civil penalties for bodily harm to passengers with disabilities or damage to wheelchairs and mobility aids, creation of an advisory committee to recommend consumer protection improvements and the development of an “Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights.”
Air travel is already unpleasant enough, but can be especially so for people with disabilities, whether it’s the lack of a wheelchair accessible restroom on board or the sensory overload of going through a crowded security line.
While airports are subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act, air travel is governed by the Air Carrier Access Act. The bill of rights is required to use plain language to list the rights of passengers with disabilities, including receiving timely assistance and seating accommodations if requested. The law requires airline employees and contractors toundergo training on the bill of rights.
The new law requires the TSA to revise its training within six months for screening passengers with disabilities. The agency must address proper screening and any particular sensitivities a traveler with a disability might have, including to touch, pressure and sound. Signs must be posted at security checkpoints advising on how to complain of screening mistreatment based on disability.
The Department of Transportation must promulgate final rules within 18 months for service animals on planes, including a service animal definition.
Finally, the law requires studies of airport accessibility best practices and the feasibility of someday allowing in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems so that people could remain in their wheelchairs in flight rather than having to transfer to an airplane seat.
There are a great many factors that cause all kinds of people, not just fathers, to procrastinate creating an estate plan. None of them are valid. They include:
“If I make a Will, then it’s OK to die. I don’t want to die.”
“I don’t have that much money, so I don’t need an estate plan.”
“Everything I have is either joint tenancy or has a death beneficiary designation, so I don’t need an estate plan.”
Fear: aversion to hiring a lawyer.
Fear: not knowing how to select a good lawyer.
Fear: not understanding what is involved in estate planning, or why a lawyer is even necessary.
Fear: “How am I going to know at the end of the day if the lawyer has done a good job?”
Not understanding the value of a great estate plan.
Not wanting to spend money on a lawyer.
But why do fathers in particular seem to hesitate to create an estate plan that will take care of their spouse and children? The same dads who are obsessive about getting their cars tuned up every three months and checking smoke alarm batteries monthly, will keep putting off the will-signing appointment for months or years at a time. Does working without an “estate planning net,” so to speak, feed into many men’s need to be the invincible hero of the family? Is there a relationship between whether a man’s parents discussed, or didn’t discuss, their estate plan, and a father’s willingness to create his own? If a man’s father died young, will that influence a man to take care of his own estate planning, or make him likelier to avoid thinking about it?
However, if you have the responsibility of fatherhood, you must have an estate plan to take care of your spouse and children. An good estate plan will name guardians for minor or special needs children, protect children from themselves when young by having a trustee oversee their inheritance, and even protect those same assets throughout the child’s life from creditors and divorce. Children are perhaps the biggest reason for dads to have an estate plan.
Failure to have an estate plan frequently means that assets pass to people you did not intend, and in a manner that is unwise or disastrous. It may even mean that the decision about who will rear your minor child or oversee matters for your adult special needs child will be decided by a judge. And it all opens the possibility of a family battles.
An estate planning attorney can advise you in creating a plan that fits your unique circumstances and may include children.
The Institute for Community Inclusion ("ICI") is partnering with several other organizations in a new Massachusetts Transition to Adulthood Facebook group. Family members of young people with disabilities can join the group to get the latest information, see inspiring stories, and connect with other families, all related to the transition from school to work and adult life.
The creation of this group is a project of the Massachusetts Partnership for Transition to Employment, a federally-funded, collaborative systems-change project designed to improve employment outcomes for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities transitioning from school to adult life.
About ICI: ICI was established in 1967 at Children's Hospital Boston by Dr. Allen Crocker and was originally known as the Developmental Evaluation Center. The Center was one of the first in the country, established as a direct result of President Kennedy's recognition of the national need for increased support and training for citizens with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Through the years ICI has expanded its scope, and today ICI's services focus on the entire life-span of people with all types of disabilities. Learn more about ICI here.
We certainly weren’t dressed for play (because of course we take everything here very seriously), but we knew it would be fun … we just didn’t realize how much fun! As an adult you forget how much fun it is to go down the slide, climb the structures, and get pushed on the swing. The rest of our day was much better thanks to some time in the sunshine, laughing with the team, and playing like a kid again.
The reason we made the time to go play on the playground is because Special Needs Law Group of Massachusetts is proud to announce our partnership with Crossroads School to help them build their playground. We are not only donating to their playground campaign, but also challenging you to join us by doing the same!
Crossroads needs less than $60,000 to build their students with autism a wonderful playground. When we learned the school was so close to their goal for the playground, we knew it was time to show our commitment to helping students live active, healthy lives. On the playground students will improve balance, coordination, strength, and mobility. And they’ll also have a ton of fun while working on communication and problem-solving skills. That’s why we’re serious about play and challenging you to donate to Crossroads so we can match your donation and double your impact!
Special Needs Law Group of Massachusetts will match up to $10,000 in donations! Yes, that’s right $10,000! Help us get these students out on the playground this fall. All you need to do is click on this link and donate and it will be immediately matched! Any amount is appreciated. We are so close to hitting the goal! Thank you!
You may have spent much of the last three or four decades listening to your kids express their wishes. However, now it’s time for you to share yours. Let your children know what you’d like to do and be as clear and specific as you can. The more they know, the more they may be able to help you.
For one family, the discussion centered on when the parents wanted to retire, where they wanted to live during retirement and how they envisioned spending their time. Questions like what would add value to your life, and what would take away from it, are good starting points. Would you choose to live in the same area as your adult children, so you could be part of their lives and their children’s lives?
The topic of grandchildren is a frequent discussion. Do you want to be a regular part of their day-to-day activities or are a few visits a year for holidays enough for you?
Can your adult children be part of your plans?
Many retirees chose to make being of service to others a large part of their retirement. Having your adult kids or grandchildren involved in the same organization as you, albeit on a different level, might make everyone’s life more fulfilling.
Communication with adult children is sometimes a challenge. Remember that you have to keep up your part of the dialogue. If your kids are more comfortable with texts than with long phone calls, be flexible.
Have the real talk about estate planning and caregiving.
Allowing your grown children to be involved with estate planning and discussing caregiving plans for later in life can allay a lot of general fears about aging and eventually, death. It’s not the most fun conversation you’ll ever have. However, having these conversations now, will make your later years more comfortable and less stressful for all.
Where do you want to live if you can’t live on your own? Do you want your children to take care of you or would you rather be in a care facility?
An estate planning attorney can advise you in creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances.
Let’s start with the variables. When will you file? If you wait until your full retirement age, that will be different than if circumstances force you to file earlier. Will your spouse file first? Who has the larger income? You’ll need to look at who files first and when. And then? You’ll still have some unknowns.
Does Social Security have an iffy future? Despite the rumors that are floating around, Social Security is not going bankrupt. The program’s primary funding source is payroll taxes, so as long as there is a workforce, there will be benefits. However, there are more workers leaving the workforce now than there are entering it, so the program may soon need to tap trust funds to keep up with obligations in the face of insufficient revenue.
There may be reductions in benefits. They could be as much, say some experts, as 21%. That would be a big hit for any household’s income.
If you know your Social Security history, you’ll know that Social Security was never designed to be a general retirement source. It was to help the aging and destitute. The goal for Social Security today is to replace about 40% of the average worker’s pre-retirement income. Most seniors need double that amount to keep up with expenses, so relying solely on Social Security is a bad idea.
If you really want to have enough money to support yourself in retirement, don’t bank so heavily on Social Security. Instead, save aggressively to build a nest egg that’s secure enough, so you don’t have to worry about what the government has in store for the future.
If you are under 50 and working, you can contribute up to $18,500 per year to a 401(k) and $5,500 to an IRA. Over 50? Make the most of a catch-up contribution that elevates these limits to $24,500 to a 401(k) and $6,500 to an IRA.
Even if you can’t max out your annual contribution, just setting aside an amount every month will give you a better chance for a healthy nest egg and enjoyable retirement.
There’s nothing wrong with assuming you’ll have some income from Social Security. However, if you don’t base your retirement income on it, then your Social Security money can be a buffer against unexpected expenses or a little extra breathing room in your budget.
A good financial advisor can help you in creating financial plan that fits your unique circumstances, including retirement planning.