Category Archives: SSI

Ask the Expert- Why is Autism So Common Now?

Written by Evan Farr

Q. My ten year old son, Cole, was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) when he was six. He is in a class of 20 children and there are two other boys and a girl who also have an ASD, all ranging in severity. These children spend half the time in the typical class and half the time in special education. When I was growing up, the only person I knew with autism was my friend’s brother, who didn’t talk and was very anxious about being around others. Why is ASD so common now, as opposed to 30 years ago, and what can I and other parents do to plan for our special needs children?

A. Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. ASD affects each person in different ways, thus their impairment can range from mild to severe, but all those afflicted with autism share problems with social interaction.

What we know now is that there is no one cause of autism just as there is no one type. Different genes increase the probability of a child developing autism. We know that children who have a sibling or parent with autism are at a much higher risk of also having the condition or another developmental disorder. Genes may be affected by advanced parental age at time of conception.

But why is autism’s prevalence increasing? Thirty years ago, the rate of autism was typically quoted as 4 in 10,000. The most recent rate reported is 1 in 50. This is an alarming increase from one in every 88 children reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just four years ago.  Factors that have brought the startling levels of autism to our attention include:

  • Better Understanding: Thirty years ago, autism was first introduced as a separate diagnostic category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders III (DSM-3). Prior to that time, clinicians using the DSM applied other categories such as childhood schizophrenia.
  • More Awareness: Since the early ‘80’s, there has been extraordinary growth in awareness – both for professionals and parents. Pediatricians now screen for early warning signs, as do parents. These actions have all led to a much greater awareness of the symptoms of autism which has translated to more diagnoses being made. In addition, the increased awareness has permitted older kids to be diagnosed when the signs earlier in life were not recognized as autism.
  • Expansion of the Symptoms: Diagnostic changes that recognized autism as a spectrum, now referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), have helped capture the wide range of symptoms that go beyond “classic” autism. These symptoms can include social, communicative, and repetitive/stereotyped behaviors. Since autism became a spectrum disorder, many youth were diagnosed who would not have been in past years.
  • Changes in Etiological Factors: Less understood is the role of new causative factors that increase the risk for ASD. Much attention is being given to environmental factors and there is the suggestion that specific genetic mutations may be linked to autism.

Autism has come a long way in the past 30 years. We know now that autism is very common and that it may be influenced by genetic and environmental risk factors that are not well understood at this time. For these reasons, it is important for doctors, scientists, and awareness groups to keep researching the causes of autism, and to continue to promote awareness of the early signs and symptoms in order to support early diagnosis and intervention.

How can you plan for your son? More than $13 billion a year is spent to care for individuals with autism.  For the average affected family, this translates to $30K per year.  Many parents believe that needs-based programs such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid will be enough to take care of their family members with special needs when they are gone.  This is a common misconception.

SSI is the federal needs based program that many special needs children and adults may be eligible for if they meet certain income limits. Many special needs children and adults may also get Medicaid to pay for hospital stays, doctor bills, prescription drugs, and other health costs.  However, once a person with special needs exceeds the $2,000 a year resource limit, he or she is no longer eligible for SSI or Medicaid.

Twenty million American families have at least one member with special needs, such as ASD, cerebral palsy, mental illness, blindness, and others.  Parents of those with special needs are tasked with planning for their children throughout their lifetime, as many of them will outlive their parents but might not be able to support themselves and live independently.

We here at The Fairfax Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C., know that the majority of American families who have a loved one with special needs require a Special Needs Trust.  These families typically have very little in tangible assets, second mortgages on their homes, and little to no savings (likely due to paying for the costly therapies). As a parent or guardian, you want to ensure that your child with special needs will remain financially secure even when you are no longer there to provide support.  A Special Needs Trust is a vehicle that provides assets from which a disabled person can maintain his or her quality of life, while still remaining eligible for needs-based programs that will cover basic health and living expenses.

In your situation, you can create a Special Needs Trust to benefit Cole that provides instructions as to the level of care you want for him. After you are gone, the people you have chosen to manage the trust (trustees) can spend money on certain defined expenses for Cole’s benefit without compromising his eligibility for needs based programs.

We invite you to call 703-691-1888 to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation with The Fairfax Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr P.C. to learn more about special needs planning.

Senior Homeowners: When does a Reverse Mortgage Make Sense?

Written by Evan Farr

For many seniors the equity in their home is their largest single asset, yet it is unavailable to use unless they use a home equity loan. But a conventional loan really doesn’t free up the equity because the money has to be paid back with interest.

reverse mortgage is a risk-free way of tapping into home equity without creating monthly payments and without requiring the money to be paid back during a person’s lifetime. Instead of making payments the cash flow is reversed and the senior receives payments from the bank. Thus the title “reverse mortgage“.
Many seniors are finding they can use a reverse mortgage to pay off an existing conventional mortgage, pay off debt or help pay for home repairs, remodeling or long term care needs.
False Beliefs

The lender could take my house.” The homeowner retains full ownership. The Reverse Mortgage is just like any other mortgage; you own the title and the bank holds a lien. You can pay it off anytime you like.
I can be thrown out of my own home.” Homeowners can stay in the home as long as they live, with no payment requirement.
Virtually anyone can qualify. You must be at least 62, own and live in, as a primary residence, a home [1-4 family residence, condominium, co-op, permanent mobile home, or manufactured home] in order to qualify for a reverse mortgage.
There are no income, asset or credit requirements. It is the easiest loan to qualify for.
The amount of reverse mortgage benefit for which you may qualify, will depend on your age at the time you apply for the loan, the reverse mortgage program you choose, the value of your home and current interest rates. As a general rule, the older you are and the greater your equity, the larger the reverse mortgage benefit will be (up to certain limits, in some cases).
The reverse mortgage must pay off any outstanding liens against your property before you can withdraw additional funds.
The loan is not due and payable until the borrower no longer occupies the home as a principal residence (i.e. the borrower sells, moves out permanently or passes away). At that time, the balance of borrowed funds is due and payable, all additional equity in the property belongs to the owners or their beneficiaries.
The most popular reverse mortgage plan is the HECM. (Home Equity Conversion Mortgage) Over 90% of all reverse mortgages are HECM contracts.
You must participate in an independent Credit Counseling session with a FHA-approved counselor early in the application process for a reverse mortgage. The counselor’s job is to educate you about all of your mortgage options. This counseling session may charge a fee to the borrower and can be done in person or, more typically, over the telephone. After completing this counseling, you will receive a Counseling Certificate in the mail which must be included as part of the reverse mortgage application.
You can choose 3 options to receive the money from a reverse mortgage:
  1. all at once (lump sum);
  2. fixed monthly payments (for up to life);
  3. a line of credit; or a combination of a line of credit and monthly payments.
The most popular option, chosen by more than 60 percent of borrowers, is the line of credit, which allows you to draw on the loan proceeds at any time.
Keeping money in a reverse mortgage line of credit in most states will not count as an asset for Medicaid eligibility.  It is best to get an opinion from an Elder Attorney in your state.
Tom MacDonald, in his article on “ReverseMortgageconsultant.com”, makes the following statement about Medicaid, Med-Cal or SSI requirements:
No matter how you take your money in a reverse mortgage, it is considered a loan. If you are looking at a financial statement, it is a liability, not an asset. The home is the asset. Many times we refer to the monthly payments incorrectly as monthly income. Neither the IRS nor Medicaid nor any other agency count the funds from a reverse mortgage as taxable income or qualifying income. Think of taking a cash advance from a credit card. It is money you owe to the credit card company. I’ve not see an agency consider the money from a cash advance as income. The funds from a reverse mortgage are similar.
The Medicaid, Medi-Cal or SSI guideline you need to be most cautious of is the cash on hand guideline. Once example is the requirement you have no more than $2,000 in your bank accounts. If you are taking $1,000/mo of payments from a reverse mortgage and spending only $500/mo, it is obvious that you will exceed the $2,000 guideline within a few months. So, when taking monthly payments, take no more than you know you will be spending every month.

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Latest Numbers: Muscular Dystrophy Funds Raised

Written by Evan Farr

As you may know, the Farr Law Firm is participating in the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Muscle Walk, taking place at George Mason University on April 2 2011.

We are making progress! But we have a long way to go.  You can track our progress by viewing our MDA page here, or alternatively, you can check back here (our blog) and we will periodically update our barometer.

Please Help Us Support The Muscular Dystrophy Association

Written by Evan Farr

UPDATE: The Farr Law Firm would like to extend a special thanks on behalf of the Muscular Dystrophy Association to our first two donors!

Thank You Ana A. and Mark R!

We still have a long way to go, as you can see from our Barometer

Please consider making a small donation by visiting our Firm’s MDA Fundraiser page.

The Farr Law Firm is participating in the MDA Fundraiser Walk on Saturday, April 2. We need your help!

Muscular Dystrophy is a group of genetic disorders that weakens muscles, makes it difficult to perform routine tasks like climbing stairs or playing with friends, and seriously limits what many children can do to enjoy life.  The Greater Washington Muscular Dystrophy Association funds research, cares for patients, and even sponsors summer camps for children with the disease. 

The Farr Law Firm supports organizations such as the MDA; our Firm takes great pride in helping families with Special Needs Children.  For more information, please visit our site for Special Needs Planning, located here.

In addition to the children who suffer from Muscular Dystrophy and need our support, an increasing number of adults under the age of 65 are entering nursing home facilities as a result of neuromuscular diseases.  Our recent article, posted on our National Blog, highlighted the fact that the number of young adults in nursing home facilities has increased 22% in just the last 8 years.

If you would like more information on how, when, and why to plan for the future in light of difficult life circumstances, please feel free to call us at 1-800-399-FARR and our team will be happy to assist you.  If you would like to review our four levels of Family Protection Planning, we have made this information available for easy access on our website, located here.

Please click here to make a small donation!

PS: We will post all donors’ first name and last initial in a later posting to say thanks!