Structured SettlementsGovernment BenefitsDecember 2, 2021by Patrick HindertFuture Financial Planning for People with Disabilities – Part 3

The National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities (NLCDD) at the University of Delaware has published a new National Study (Study) titled “Future Financial Planning for People with Disabilities” on its website that should be required reading for all structured settlement and settlement planning professionals.

Introduction

The purpose of this NLCDD project was to study future financial planning for people with disabilities and to develop a framework of best practices and recommendations. Launched in June of 2020, the project consisted of three phases of data collection: 1) interviews; 2) a national survey; and 3) expert workshops.

In two prior articles, Independent Life summarized the Study (Part 1) and pointed out that, although otherwise outstanding, certain Survey findings are not, or may not be, applicable to persons with disabilities who receive personal injury settlements (Part 2).

The Study offers numerous recommendations (beginning on page 26) including recommendations (beginning at page 32) which “focused specifically on strategies, support, and criteria that directly impact the disability sector and financial and legal professionals.”

This Part 3 article does not attempt a comprehensive analysis of the Study’s recommendations. Rather, it focuses instead on just three of the Study’s recommendations and how these three recommendations might impact structure settlement professionals as they transition to settlement planning.

The overall objectives of this three-part series are to: 1) encourage structured settlement and settlement planning professionals to actually read the Study; and 2) initiate a more comprehensive discussion of its findings and recommendations within our industry’s associations and various educational forums.

The Study’s recommendations to be discussed here:

  • The need to develop “a common definition of ‘future financial planning’ that is shared broadly and adopted by all stakeholders who are invested in the financial wellbeing of people with disabilities.” Page 27
  • The need to recognize that people with disabilities are capable and worthy of earning and saving money and making decisions about their finances. Page 27
  • The siloed financial, legal, and disability worlds need to be connected and more joint outreach, encouragement, and guidance from these sectors is needed. Page 33

A Common Definition for Future Financial Planning

While acknowledging the need for a common definition, the Study defines “future financial planning” broadly as: “taking steps to make sure you have the money and services you need in the future.

Significantly, the Study adds: “because future financial planning for people with disabilities is a complex undertaking, the study incorporates elements of future planning to consider factors that can lead to ideal outcomes for people with disabilities.”

To further clarify this statement, the Study:

  • Offers the following description of “future planning” from the Arc’s Center for Future Planning: “creating a guide for a person with an intellectual or developmental disability (I/DD) to lead a good life as independently as possible;” and
  • References a study by Lauderdale and Huston that divides financial planning for people with disabilities into the two main areas of support: one focused on the person’s future and continuity of their care, and one to on providing necessary and ongoing social and emotional support.

The Study also recommends that any definition of “future financial planning” should eliminate “ableist” terminology (e.g. “special needs”) because it emphasizes the “otherness” of people with disabilities within the financial system.

This brief description of “future financial planning for people with disabilities” raises fundamental questions for structured settlement professionals transitioning to settlement planning.

First, assuming future financial planning represents a component of settlement planning, what is the definition of “settlement planning?” During the NSSTA 2021 Annual Conference, Michael Goodman, the current NSSTA President, stated: “we (NSSTA members) are becoming settlement planners.”

Assuming Michael Goodman’s statement is true, that does not necessarily mean any NSSTA member describes “settlement planning” the same as any SSP member, or any AASC member, or any other NSSTA member.

To intelligently discuss “future financial planning for people with disabilities,” therefore, the structured settlement community must first develop a standard definition for “settlement planning ”

Second, in the context of either settlement planning or future financial planning for people with disabilities, what do industry professionals now mean when they use the term “structured settlement?”

Does a “traditional structured settlement” (cash plus one or more annuities) define a “settlement plan” or a “future financial plan” for people with disabilities who receive personal injury settlements – i.e. does a structured settlement equate to a settlement solution?

In considering that question, recall that when originally enacted, the structured settlement tax exemption was premised(falsely as it turned out) on eliminating the need for recipients to rely on future government benefits.

Or, alternatively, in the context of settlement planning and future financial planning for people with disabilities, should a structured settlement now more narrowly describe a tax-preferenced annuity product that can be, or should be, the strategic foundation for a more comprehensive settlement plan?

Consider the following quote from personal finance expert Suze Orman during NSSTA’s recent 2021 Fall Conference. Does this quote help explain or further confuse what we currently mean by a structured settlement and its relationship to settlement planning and future financial planning for disabled individuals?

At your greatest time of need, not only if you’re the one who has suffered and you’re the one who is injured, and obviously you need help and the one to be taken care of with your family, and the emotional toll it takes on your family, if you think that when you’re at the most emotional low and physical low of your life and if you think you have what it takes to handle that which can literally keep you going for the rest of your lives, I’m here to tell you YOU DO NOT. So let somebody help you. Let us help you. Let us protect you. And let us make sure that everything works, financially speaking simply by doing that which would protect you which is a structured settlement.”

Third, to what extent (timing; scope; education) should “settlement planning” itself include “future financial planning?” SSP, an association of settlement planners, appears to have considered these issues. Examples:

  • The SSP Settlement Planning Practice Standards – Standard 2 requires the planner and the client “to mutually define scope of the engagement before any settlement planning service is provided.” Standard 10 requires the planner and the client to “mutually define monitoring responsibilities.”
  • The SSP RSP Program Overview – includes Part 3 “Financial Planning for Settlement Planners.” Note, however, the differences between the RSP Program Overview description of “financial planning” and the more “disability specific” description of “future financial planning” set forth above from the Study.

Finally, to what extent (again: timing; scope; education) do NSSTA and AASC, two associations whose members include defense structured settlement brokers, believe that “settlement planning” should include “future financial planning” and how do defense brokers propose to define these terms?

Shift in Perception and Mindsets

The Study identifies a need to shift perceptions and mindsets about people with disabilities that may prove challenging, even counterintuitive, for some structured settlement professionals.

Specifically, the experts who contributed to the Study identified a general need “to recognize that people with disabilities are capable and worthy of earning and saving money and making decisions about their finances.”

Structured settlements, however, are premised on the public policy argument that a vast majority of lump sum recipients quickly dissipate their settlements – the implication being most settlement recipients are incapable of independently managing their own money.

A structured settlement solves this inherent dissipation “problem” by transferring responsibility and investment risk, and in some cases mortality risk, to a state regulated life insurance company.

As discussed in Part 2, the Study does not specifically address the unique future financial planning issues applicable to people with disabilities who receive personal injury settlements.

Instead, the Study emphasizes barriers to future financial planning created by service systems and government benefit programs that historically have assumed people with disabilities cannot work or meaningfully contribute to the economy.

As a result, the Study finds people with disabilities are generally required to live in poverty to maintain government benefits and services which thereby prevents them from becoming financially self-sustaining by limiting or disincentivizing their work opportunities.

These barriers, in turn, according to the Study, cause people with disabilities to be excluded from decisions about their own finances, as well as from financial education that is available to many people without disabilities.

The Study maintains that many people with disabilities are potentially as capable of making decisions about their finances as people without disabilities – and need to be considered as such.

To achieve a shift in perception and mindsets, the Study’s experts offer several recommendations including the need to educate financial and legal professionals about three concepts this writer has never heard mentioned as part of any structured settlement educational program: “Person Centered Planning,” “Supported Decision Making ,” and “Self-Directed Lives.”

More generally, the Study identifies a need for financial and legal professionals who advise people with disabilities to teach these individuals and their families financial planning skill sets in addition to offering them financial and insurance products and services.

This last recommendation reinforces a central “educational” theme in Traci Kaas’ book, “What You Can Expect When Expecting a Settlement” and also emphasizes the need for structured settlement professionals to gain expanded knowledge themselves about future financial planning.

The Need for Connection and Outreach

The Study highlighted, what its survey participants believe to be, the siloed nature of future financial planning for people with disabilities as a significant barrier.

While each type of financial and/or legal expert understood their specific area of expertise, as a general finding, few could relate their expertise to the complexities of the lives of people with disabilities.

In addition, both family members and professionals who were interviewed for the Study acknowledged challenges of knowing who to trust and how to properly vet experts.

Although qualified organizations and relevant information exist, communication efforts to connect people with disabilities to appropriate resources apparently are lacking.

The Study’s expert participants therefore recommended creating an organization or a collaborative of organizations to bridge these silos and provide useful and timely information to help professionals act in the best interests of people with disabilities and their families.

The Study cited the following “collaboratives” which it suggested might be able, individually or collectively, to fulfill this role: the Alliance of Pooled Trusts, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, the Special Needs Alliance and the Society of Settlement Planners (SSP).

Part 2 of this series addresses the Study’s failure to include any representatives from NSSTA or AASC among its contributing experts.

It is worth considering, however, whether, and to what extent, the Study’s observations about “siloed” knowledge, as well as lack of connection and outreach to the disability community, are relevant to structured settlement professionals and professional associations – and how self-improvements might occur.

Suggestions:

First, even though AASC has yet to develop a certification program, NSSTA, AASC and SSP might each benefit by reevaluating their education and certification programs to consider the findings and recommendations of the Study as well as the educational programs of other associations that participated.

Second, NSSTA, AASC and SSP might consider strategic relationships with some of the associations that participated in the Study specifically related to shared interests in improving future financial planning for people with disabilities.

Third, NSSTA, AASC and SSP (individually or jointly) might develop a set of best practices and recommendations for future financial planning for people with disabilities who receive personal injury settlements using relevant findings and recommendations from the Study as a framework.

CONCLUSION

The purpose of the NLCDD project was to study future financial planning for people with disabilities and develop a framework of best practices and recommendations.

Independent Life’s three-part series has: 1) summarized the Study; 2) identified findings not applicable to disabled persons who receive personal injury settlements; and 3) discussed how three specific recommendations from the Study might impact, perhaps even improve, structure settlement professionals and their associations as they transition to settlement planning.

Hopefully this series will encourage members of NSSTA, AASC and SSP to actually read the Study and to further discuss its findings and recommendations

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