Group to get tips on estate planning Focus is people with disabilities

February 09, 1993|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

Parents who live with fear of what will happen to their mentally ill, mentally retarded or physically disabled sons and daughters after the parents' deaths can learn tomorrow about estate planning for people with disabilities.

Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Carroll County will sponsor a talk by Emad Alwan, eastern regional director of Estate Planning for Persons with Disabilities, a California-based financial planning service. Mr. Alwan will speak at 7:30 p.m. at the Westminster Senior Center on Schoolhouse Avenue.

"It just breaks your heart. [Older parents] are afraid to die because their child is going to be left alone," said Lorraine "Lori" McLeod, president of the board of directors of the Association for Retarded Citizens of Carroll County.

The local ARC chapter has sponsored similar programs for families with mentally retarded members, but the most recent one was several years ago, according to Timothy J. Atkinson, executive director.

Parents worry, "How can we see that they get some money and not have them cut off from the services they desperately need?" said Janice Becker, AMI representative for Carroll County.

The difficulty parents face is how to leave money for disabled sons' and daughters' needs without making them ineligible for Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income. If the disabled become ineligible for medical assistance, money left for clothing or occasional movies or other services would quickly be eaten up by medical expenses.

"I've probably met 600 or 700 families, and probably five or six of them could have afforded treatment" without Medicaid, Mrs. Becker said.

In the first two years of their daughter's mental illness, she and her husband spent $40,000 on medical expenses that were not covered by their Blue Cross and Blue Shield, she said.

"You want to try everything, and you do, until the money runs out," Mrs. Becker said.

Mr. Alwan said the estate-planning service can help parents set up special types of trusts so that a disabled family member will be able to maintain a decent standard of living after the parents have died and continue to qualify for benefits such as Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid and Medicare.

He said EPPD does not act as a guardian or advocate, but the financial planners will help parents locate guardians or trustees and will review government benefit programs for which the disabled person is eligible.

The service isn't just for the wealthy, Mr. Alwan said. He said EPPD has planned estates for people of all income levels, parents with children of all ages, husbands or wives with mentally ill or physically disabled spouses, and family members of accident victims left with permanent brain damage or victims of degenerative diseases such as ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease.

Mrs. McLeod said parents of mentally retarded adults often fear that their sons or daughters will have to enter an institution after the parents die, a lingering concern from the time when institutionalization was more common. Parents worry about where their children will live and who will take care of them, but not many worry about whether their sons and daughters will have enough money, she said.

She cited an example from her own family. When her grandmother died several years ago, her will included no special trust to protect the money she left her mentally retarded son. The family was able to retain his eligibility for benefits only by putting the inheritance in a burial trust, "so what little bit of money he has, he can't have [to spend]," she said.

Mrs. Becker said parents of the mentally ill worry about providing money to hire a case manager, "someone to check on them, to see that they do have a place to sleep."

She said relying on a mentally ill person's brother or sister doesn't often work. The mentally ill person resents having to ask his brother or sister for an allowance, and the sibling may resent being saddled with the responsibility.

Estate planning for families with mentally ill members is more difficult because flexibility has to be built into the trust to allow for possible improvement in the person's condition, Mr. Alwan said.

"What if through therapy and medication the person was able to improve enough to hold down a part-time job?" he said. The mentally ill person could have too much income to qualify for Medicaid, but might not get adequate health insurance through the part-time job.

Mr. Alwan said that although lawyers offer estate-planning services, EPPD is unique in providing both legal and financial services in-house.

The service charges a flat $795 fee for two simple wills and one special needs trust, with additional fees for other services such as powers of attorney.

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