Guest Blog

Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Accounts: New Law Empowers People with Disabilities

06 Jul 2016 by Leona Filis

From time to time, we like to invite guests to share their perspectives here in our magazine. Today’s guest blog is written by LEONA E. FILIS, an attorney licensed in Texas and North Dakota–Ed.

Many advocates worked tirelessly to have a new financial planning tool made available to families across the United States. One such person is law clerk, Sara Wolff, who created an online petition in support of the ABLE legislation. Being a woman living with a disability, Down syndrome, Sara testified in July 2014 before the Senate Finance Committee about the struggle of fiscally responsible disabled persons who need a savings option, similar to the existing 529 accounts, without the fear of losing vital government benefits. Sara offered her personal story about the financial predicament she faced when she suffered the tragedy of losing her mother. Sara, although working, was not allowed to save money of her own and continue to receive government benefits, which was critical for her survival. Sara lobbied Congress advocating with the goal of positively impacting the lives of millions of people with disabilities.

Congress passed the federal ABLE legislation and President Obama signed the ABLE Act into law December 2014. Many states passed their version of ABLE legislation, but Ohio is the first state to implement ABLE and allow nationwide enrollment to for STABLE Accounts. For the convenience of participants, qualified expenses can be purchased by using a STABLE card (a loadable prepaid debit card).

The goal of the ABLE Act is to allow for families and individuals to save money to support individuals with disabilities to maintain their health, their independence, and their quality of life.

Per the Social Security Administration Program Operations Manual, rules and restrictions for an ABLE account include:

  • One account per each eligible individual (blind or has a disability developed before age 26)
  • For a minor child or person incapable of managing an account, a person with signature authority (parent, legal guardian, agent under POA) can establish and control an ABLE account.
  • Anyone can contribute
  • Up to $14,000.00 can be contributed each year and money grows tax-free
  • Expenses include housing,* legal fees, education, health, prevention and wellness, financial management and administrative services, transportation, and funeral and burial expenses.

*If the beneficiary of the ABLE account receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI), then speak to an attorney prior to spending ABLE account funds on housing. In some cases, funds used for housing expenses must be made in the same calendar month and not held over.

One note of caution to ABLE account contributors is the payback provision.The State Medicaid agency is authorized to seek reimbursement for services provided to the beneficiary, as far back as the inception of the ABLE account. The beneficiary’s heirs can receive the remaining funds.

Leona Filis

Leona Filis is a Special Needs Attorney who is a partner and a resource to parents by helping them navigate those tough decisions for their children.Her goal as a Special Needs Attorney is to be a partner in the children’s lives and a resource to the parents to help the children from the first step to the very last step.