Elaine T. Yandrisevits
On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. The ADA represented a sweeping change in access for individuals with disabilities by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, education, transportation, public accommodations, and other areas of life. The signing of the ADA represented the efforts of years of advocacy on behalf of individuals with disabilities and their advocates, whose work continues to this day.
One of the most important estate planning considerations for individuals and families is the ability to pass on assets to a beneficiary with a disability. If an individual with special needs is receiving income- and resource-dependent public benefits, then proper estate planning is necessary to ensure that the receipt of an inheritance does not jeopardize eligibility for these benefits. Income- and resource-dependent public benefits have strict limits on the amount of assets an individual can receive monthly (income) and own (resources) in order to qualify. Two of the most important income- and resource-dependent public benefits are Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid (called Medical Assistance in Pennsylvania), which includes health insurance and Medicaid waiver programs for community-based services. The resource limit for SSI eligibility is $2,000 per individual ($3,000 if the individual is married). In many states, including Pennsylvania, individuals who qualify for SSI are automatically enrolled in Medical Assistance. Medical Assistance waiver programs have varying resource limits depending on the program. As a general rule, therefore, individuals with disabilities who receive these public benefits cannot have assets in excess of $2,000 without affecting their eligibility for public benefits.