If there was one theme running throughout the presentations at the 2017 Annual Conference, that theme was relationship building and the opportunities that we all have to reach out to organizations that participate in the work we do. As Phillip Krause of Ringler stated at the meeting, structured settlements are a financial solution that is undervalued in the current financial market, and educating stakeholders involved in settlement resolution is a critical mission for NSSTA.
In a session titled “Special Needs Attorneys and Structured Settlement Consultants—Working Together to Meet the Needs of Injured People,” NSSTA member Pat Hindert of S2KM moderated a panel about the need for NSSTA members to build strong relationships with special needs attorneys and organizations like the Special Needs Alliance (SNA). As part of the NSSTA Special Needs Task Force, and a SNA member himself, Pat Hindert has helped established a working relationship between NSSTA and the SNA. He built this presentation to specifically address the ways that structured settlement consultants can build relationships with special needs attorneys, why these relationships are important and the current political priorities of the SNA. The panel included Phillip Krause and Morris Klein, a practicing special needs attorney and member of the SNA.
It’s important for NSSTA members to understand what role special needs attorneys play in a case, and how a special needs attorney can add value. As Morris Klein discussed, public benefit laws are complicated, and understanding the form of the law, as well as the substance, is important. In many cases, claimants either meet strict eligibility guidelines or they don’t receive public benefits – there is no gray area. Without public benefits, claimants may not be able to afford the cost of care. Special needs law for is, as stated by Morris Klein, “allowing persons with disabilities to ensure that the settlement they receive is available for their benefit and would supplement, not supplant, means-tested public benefits programs they would otherwise be eligible to receive.” Both special needs attorneys and consultants are part of a team that includes social workers, lawyers, financial managers, trustees and others, whose goal is to help a claimant with disabilities maintain a secure financial future and a necessary level of care.
The panel also discussed the importance of teamwork. Phillip Krause gave multiple examples of how important cooperation is when settling a complex case. Claimants are best served when plaintiff and defense attorneys, and structured settlement consultants, are working together. Special need attorneys can provide a unique perspective on the planning process for claimants with disabilities. Cases can fall apart, and claimants may not be served properly, if there is infighting, lack of trust, or lack of knowledge when it comes to the parties involved in developing a comprehensive settlement plan. When looking at the next generation of settlement consultants, Phillip sees a move to more dynamic, comprehensive settlement planning, increased focus on claimants, elevated educational standards for consultants (in their own role and as educators), and a need to be aware of public benefit law.
One of the roles of the SNA is to watch for legislative initiatives that impact public benefits. In the last legislative session, Congress implemented the SNA Fairness Act as part of the 21st Century CURES Act (you can read about that legislation on the NSSTA Blog: http://nssta.com/blog/recent-special-needs-trust-legislation-benefits-claimants-disabilities). Another positive change approved by Congress is the Disabled Military Child Protection Act, which allows a survivor’s benefit claim to be paid into a SNT for a disabled child. In the current legislative session, Congress is considering an expansion of the ABLE Act, which would benefit people with disabilities, and changes to Medicaid, which could increase the cost of care and affect people with disabilities in negative ways. Changes are possible, and things can move quickly in Washington D.C. – it’s important to partner with special needs attorneys that have a level of expertise in these areas.
It’s clear that the expertise special needs attorneys bring to a case with a disabled claimant is critical. However, the role that a structured settlement consultant plays is just as important, and attorneys are often not aware of what consultants do, why consultants are vital and how structured settlement consultants can make the settlement process easier for all parties. This education needs to come from individuals and from the NSSTA organization. Our mission is to promote the use of structured settlements as part of a comprehensive settlement plan, and special needs attorneys can be a valuable partner in this mission.