On December 3, 2014, Congress passed the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, or as it’s more commonly known as, the ABLE Act. The ABLE Act authorized a new type of tax-favored savings account for blind or disabled individuals with a qualifying disability incurred prior to age 26. As of January 1, 2018, these individuals may receive up to $15,000 per calendar year in an ABLE account, without having the funds in the account counted against them for Medicaid or SSI eligibility purposes. The ABLE account beneficiary is able to manage the funds on deposit in the account and may use the account proceeds to pay for “qualified disability expenses (QDEs).” As long as the expenditures of funds from the ABLE account being attributed to the blind or disabled account beneficiary are used for QDEs, the dollars will not be subject to federal income tax, nor will they be deemed as countable resources in determining eligibility for most federal welfare benefit programs.
So why is the ABLE account such an important vehicle? Simply put, many disabled individuals and their families can’t afford the rising costs of care related to their lives with disabilities. Medicaid and SSI only provide so much, and eligibility requirements force the beneficiary to have no more than $2,000 of countable assets at any time. ABLE accounts can protect additional resources for the disabled beneficiary, whose friends, family members, or the disabled individual himself, may transfer up to $15,000 per calendar year per disabled beneficiary into the ABLE account. Undistributed earnings will not be taxed, and no 10% penalty will apply on distributions. The funds may accumulate in the account year after year, up to the applicable state 529 cap for Medicaid purposes. For SSI purposes, the limit is $100,000, after which eligibility for SSI is suspended until the account proceeds are spent down below the $100,000 SSI threshold. Therefore, assuming the account owner follows the rules of ABLE accounts (outlined below), he or she can not only receive Medicaid, SSI and/or SNAP (food stamps), but can also use the ABLE funds to supplement those benefits with tax-free dollars.
In order to be eligible to open an ABLE account, you must be deemed a disabled individual by the Social Security Administration, and need to have incurred such disability before turning age 26 (NOTE: This does not prohibit applicants aged 26 or older from applying, only those whose disability began after age 26). Should you meet the eligibility qualifications, the following financial regulations apply:
- “Qualified disability expenses” or QDE’s are defined as “any expense related to the beneficiary as a result of living a life with disabilities1.” Examples of such expenses can include education, housing, assistive technology, transportation, health care expenses, and other expenses that help improve the individual’s quality of life1
- As of January 1, 2018 until December 31, 2025, the funds on deposit in a 529 educational savings account may be rolled over into an ABLE account if the beneficiary of the 529 account, or a family member of that individual, is a qualified disabled beneficiary.
Similar to a First-Party Special Needs Trust (more information in future blog), there is a payback provision associated with ABLE accounts. This provision requires that upon the passing of the ABLE account owner, the state Medicaid agency that provided benefits to that individual is allowed to reclaim or recoup all or a portion of that individual’s ABLE account remaining after death, equal to the amount of dollars expended on behalf of the individual, beginning from the time their ABLE account was opened.
Ultimately, the supplemental financial support afforded to the beneficiary during lifetime almost always outweighs the downside of the Medicaid payback after death. Regardless, it’s imperative to speak with your tax, legal, and financial advisors before opening or contributing to an ABLE account
For more information on ABLE accounts and their potential utility for a loved one with disabilities, contact Sean Rice, CTFA, firstname.lastname@example.org, (856)-281-1300.