Special Needs Planning

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Five Things You Need to Know About the Recently Enacted ABLE Act


On December 19, 2014, President Obama signed the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE Act) into law.  The ABLE Act will allow certain individuals with disabilities to establish tax-free savings accounts that can be used to cover expenses not otherwise covered by government sponsored programs. These accounts can be a great alternative or supplement to special needs or supplemental needs trusts.

Here are five important things you need to know about the ABLE Act.

1. What is an ABLE account?  An ABLE account is similar to a 529 education savings account that helps families save for college.  It is a tax-free, state-based private savings account that can be used to pay for the care of people with disabilities.  Although income earned in the account will not be taxed, contributions to the account will not be tax deductible.

2. Who is eligible for an ABLE account?  Eligibility will be limited to individuals with significant disabilities with an age of onset of disability before turning 26 years of age. If an individual meets these criteria and is also receiving benefits under SSI and/or SSDI, they are automatically eligible to establish an ABLE account.  If the individual is not a recipient of SSI and/or SSDI but still meets the age of onset disability requirement, they will still be eligible to open an ABLE account if the SSI criteria regarding significant functional limitations are met.  In addition, the disabled individual may be over the age of 26 and establish an account if the individual has documentation of their disability that shows the age of onset occurred before the age of 26.

3. What are the limits for contributions to an ABLE account?  Each individual state will determine the total limit that can be contributed to an ABLE account over time.  Although we’ll need to wait for regulations to know the exact amount that can be contributed, the Act states that any individual can make annual contributions to an ABLE account up to the gift tax exemption limit (which is $14,000 in 2015).  If the disabled individual is receiving SSI and Medicaid, the first $100,000 held in an ABLE account will be exempted from the SSI $2,000 individual resource limit.  If an ABLE account exceeds $100,000, the account beneficiary will be suspended from eligibility for SSI benefits but will continue to be eligible for Medicaid.  Upon the death of the account beneficiary, assets remaining in the ABLE account will be reimbursed to any state Medicaid plan that provided assistance from the day the ABLE account was established.

4. What types of expenses can be paid from an ABLE account?  An ABLE account may be used to pay for a “qualified disability expense,” which means any expense related to the beneficiary as a result of living with their disability.  These expenses may include medical and dental care, education, employment training, housing, assistive technology, personal support services, health care expenses, financial management, and administrative services.  

5. When will able accounts be available?  Although the ABLE Act was signed into law in December 2014, regulations will need to be established by the Department of Treasury before states can begin to set up procedures for managing ABLE accounts.  Once these regulations are issued (which is anticipated to occur later in 2015), each state will be responsible for establishing and operating their own ABLE program.

Since the money in an ABLE account can grow tax free and be accessed on a tax-free basis for qualifying expenses, these accounts could be a valuable resource for certain disabled individuals and their families. Although we’re waiting on regulations to be adopted, now is the time to begin thinking about whether an ABLE account is a good fit for your family’s circumstances. Please contact us today to learn more about ABLE accounts and disability planning.

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