American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Fall 2019      FINANCE

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ABLE, A Tool for Life Planning

by Carol Akers

From the Editor: Many parents agonize over financial planning for their children with disabilities. How can they ensure that their child will receive adequate care and will be able to enjoy a comfortable and rewarding quality of life? In this article Carol Akers introduces an exciting new option, the ABLE account.

It's too good to be true! There must be a catch! That's what I told myself after each of the three presentations I attended explaining the ABLE Act of 2014. After three presentations by three different organizations, I was sure I would figure out what the catch was and why ABLE wouldn't fit into my son's life. I read everything on the website, and I even called the 1-800 number with some of my questions. I didn't actually expect to get answers from real people, but I did.

Millions of people with disabilities depend on public programs that provide health care, housing, and other forms of assistance. In order to be eligible for these programs, however, a disabled person may not have more than two thousand dollars in cash savings or retirement funds. In other words, to remain eligible for crucial benefits, a person must remain poor.

ABLE stands for Achieving a Better Life Experience. The ABLE Act recognizes the ongoing costs of living with a disability, including accessible housing and transportation, personal assistance, and assistive technology. ABLE accounts are tax-advantaged savings accounts for people with disabilities and their families. Contributions to the account can be made by any person, such as a friend or family member.

In January 2018 I finally took the leap of faith and opened an ABLE account for my son, Dustin. In Ohio, where we live, the program is known as STABLE (State Treasurer's Achieving Better Living Experiences). I opened the account more out of curiosity than need, since it only required a fifty-dollar deposit to set it up. The process was much simpler and quicker than I expected, and the website was very user friendly and intuitive. I had not yet decided how the account would benefit my adult child with disabilities. However, as his parent and guardian, I realized that I was spending money from my bank account for things that perhaps could come out of his ABLE account instead.

When you live in the disability world, life has a way of throwing unexpected surprises at you. Just a few months after I opened the ABLE account, Dustin's father, my ex-husband, died suddenly and unexpectedly. The account was the perfect place to have State Farm deposit the small life insurance policy that was left to my son. In this way the money did not become a resource that would push Dustin over the financial limit for services he needs. The account helped us avoid a Medicaid headache!

Naturally I had to spend some time educating the insurance office about what the account was and assuring them that it was legitimate. They finally understood when they received verification from the program. That deposit into Dustin's account gave us the ability to open a Special Needs Trust, which is also considered a QDE, or Qualified Disability Expense. Since I opened the account, I have used the reloadable debit card option to transfer funds from the account as needed in order to purchase things for Dustin. The account helped us purchase new bedroom furniture, a new transport wheelchair, new shoes, batteries for Dustin's favorite musical items, haircuts, and his lunch with staff. All of these purchases are considered QDEs because they make a difference in the quality of Dustin's life. Finally, we can move beyond the Bank of Mom!

How does the account help increase Dustin's health, independence, and quality of life? Dustin is very social. He loves to meet new people, travel, shop, and experience new things. He enjoys going to fairs, festivals, and concerts. He likes to visit friends and family, to go swimming, and to eat out. The ABLE account provides many opportunities for Dustin to do the things that enrich his life.

Here are a few fast facts about STABLE.

The key to having an ABLE account is to use the money. Spend it and enjoy life!  

I see the ABLE program as an important tool to help change the mindset of persons with disabilities and their families. It can create new options for independence while it improves daily life. I share these points whenever I meet families with special needs, whether families of disabled children or adults. This program truly offers a wonderful change for the disability world.

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