By Joanne Marcus, MSW, and Karen Dunivan Konvicka, Esq., Commonwealth Community Trust
This article was originally published in "NAELA News." The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and are not to be construed as an endorsement by NAELA or InterActive Legal.
When the call comes from the plaintiff’s attorney asking what should be done about the client’s public benefits, be prepared to answer. The case is about to settle, or the verdict is in, and now the client wants to know how will it affect his or her benefits. First, you will likely have to help the personal injury (PI) attorney assess the type or types of benefits the client is receiving and determine if the settlement puts the benefits in jeopardy. How did the client receive these benefits — through means-testing or due to work history? Perhaps the PI attorney has not considered benefits, but understands that the client is incapacitated and will need the assets managed; or perhaps public benefits may be necessary in the future.
Medicaid, the means-tested public benefit for people with disabilities who are also impoverished, will need to be protected. More than $2,000 in resources and the client will lose this valuable benefit; personal injury proceeds are plainly resources. Medicare, the benefit received by workers with disabilities who have earned enough quarters to qualify for disability benefits, may also need to be protected as well. In addition, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) need to be considered. Both of these benefits provide a monthly income to people with disabilities. SSI is means-tested, just as Medicaid is, but SSDI, like Medicare, is not; therefore, SSI income will need to be considered when planning.