Hello and welcome to The Multi-Assistance Center (The MAC) Clinic Resources Page! SALSA hosts a variety of clinics at the MAC. Our current offerings are Wednesday Legal Advice Office Hours, as well as ABLE/ISM and Alternatives to Guardianships/Guardianships Presentations. Stay tuned for additional opportunities to assist families with special needs.


The ABLE/ISM clinic will provide legal education to participants as well as an opportunity for limited consults with a volunteer attorney on two limited issues – Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Accounts and In-Kind Support and Maintenance (ISM). This resource page provides background about these two areas as well as an introduction to Special Needs Trusts, another tool your client may also be considering. In addition to the broad overviews, we’ve included helpful resources as linked attachments so that you can learn more about the issues we’ll be dealing with during the clinic.

Clinic Training Video

ABLE Account & ISM Clinic Training Video – this training, hosted by attorneys Alison Packard and Roxie Parker and CPA Chris Williams, covers the ins and outs of ABLE Accounts and ISM. This is a great introduction for attorneys participating at SALSA’s next ABLE Account & ISM Clinic at the MAC.

ABLE Account & ISM Power Point – this is the power point presentation that is covered in the training video listed above.

ABLE Account Overview

What is an ABLE Account?

An ABLE Account is a tax-advantaged savings account for individuals with disabilities and their families. The ABLE Act limits eligibility to individuals with disabilities with an age of onset of disability before turning 26 years of age, but individuals over 26 remain eligible, so long as their disability onset was prior to their 26th birthday. If you meet this age requirement and are also receiving benefits under SSI and/or SSDI, you are automatically eligible to establish an ABLE account. If you are not a recipient of SSI and/or SSDI but still meet the age of onset disability requirement, you could still be eligible to open an ABLE account if you meet Social Security’s definition and criteria regarding functional limitations and receive a letter of disability certification. Individuals can only have one ABLE account.

Who opens the ABLE Program Account?

An eligible individual who is at least 18 years old can open his or her own Account. Alternatively, an ABLE account may be established for an individual with a disability who is the Designated Beneficiary and owner of that account. If the Eligible Individual is under the age of 18, is not able to manage his or her Account, or prefers to have assistance managing the Account, an Authorized Legal Representative (ALR) may act on his or her behalf.

  • The ALR must be a parent, legal guardian, or other fiduciary authorized by law to act on behalf of the Eligible Individual. An ALR may be requested to provide copies of the legal documents to the Program for review to verify the ALR’s legal authority to establish an Account for a Designated Beneficiary.

Who owns the funds in the ABLE Program Account?

The Designated Beneficiary is the owner of the Account, regardless of whether there is a named Authorized Legal Representative. Additionally, an ABLE Account may only have one owner.

Are there limits for how much money can be put into the ABLE account?

Annual contributions by all participants (including family and friends) for a single tax year is $16,000.00. This amount maybe adjusted periodically to account for inflation. Any amount over $100,000 in an ABLE account counts towards the individual’s $2,000 resource limit for SSI and Medicaid eligibility. The ABLE Account can be used in conjunction with, or as an alternative to, a Special Needs Trust to protect benefits.

*An employed ABLE account owner who does not participate in an employer sponsored retirement account may make an additional contribution up to the lesser of (1) the ABLE account owner’s compensation for the tax year, or (2) the poverty line amount ($12,800 in 2022).

Which expenses are allowed by ABLE accounts?

A “qualified disability expense” means any expense related to the designated beneficiary as a result of living a life with disabilities. These may include education, food, housing, transportation, employment training and support, assistive technology, personal support services, health care expenses, financial management and administrative services and other expenses which help improve health, independence, and/or quality of life.

How is an ABLE account different than a special needs or pooled trust?

An ABLE Account will provide more choice and control for the beneficiary and family. Additionally, the cost of establishing an account will likely be considerably less than either a Special Needs Trust (SNT) or Pooled Income Trust. With an ABLE account, account owners will have the ability to control their funds and, if circumstances change, still have other options available to them. Determining which option is the most appropriate will depend upon individual circumstances. For many families, the ABLE account will be a significant and viable option in addition to, rather than instead of, a Trust program.

*Learn more about the differences by checking out the Helpful Resources at the bottom of this resource page and reviewing the Special Needs Trust overview below

How do you set up an ABLE account?

You can help the client create an ABLE Account in Texas or in a state that allows out-of-state applicants if the client is moving out of Texas soon (military, etc.). SALSA recommends Ohio as a good out-of-state applicant option. Links to the websites can be found below.

Texas ABLE Account: https://www.texasable.org/

Ohio ABLE Account: https://www.stableaccount.com/

ABLE Accounts can be opened in any state. Depending on the client’s needs, there may be a reason to open an ABLE Account in a state other than Texas. If you have questions, please speak with a SALSA mentor about creating an ABLE Account in a state other than Texas. Here is the link to able account creation in all states: https://commonwealthcommunitytrust.org/able-act/open-able-programs/

Does your client want to get a True Link prepaid debit card? There is more information here: https://www.truelinkfinancial.com/prepaid-card

Special Needs Trust Overview

What is a Special Needs Trust?

A Special Needs Trust, also called Supplemental Trust, is a route to hold an unconstrained amount of money or property for a person with a disability or health care needs without affecting their benefits.

  • For example, SSI sets the limit at $2,000. If a person has an account that reaches this limit at any time, the benefits could be revoked. We want to see the person get access to services and save money for the future so they can afford things that make their lives better but aren’t covered by their benefits.

Why are they useful?

If a young adult inherits money or property directly, they might lose their federal or state benefits. A Special Needs Trust provides the protection to ensure this loss will not occur.

How does the client direct assets to the trust?

  • If family members wish to leave the individual any money or property, their wills should state that these go into the trust.
  • It is also important that grandparents and adult siblings have wills. Without a will, their money or property could go to individual automatically, even if the grandparent or sibling didn’t want to give it to them.
  • Additionally, it is also important to setup any life insurance or retirement policies to pay into that trust rather than directly to the individual.
  • If parents don’t need to set up a trust for individual during their lifetime, the parents can set up their will so that one is created at the end of their life.

How are funds distributed at the end of the individual’s life?

There are two common types of Special Needs Trusts. The difference between the two types of trusts is how the assets of the trust are distributed at the end of the individual’s life.

  • A self-funded trust. This type of trust holds money or property that the individual puts directly into it. This can include an insurance or personal injury settlement; or money or property that went directly to your child instead of into a third-party funded trust.
    • With a self-funded trust, Medicaid could take repayment of what has been paid out.
  • A third-party funded trust. This type of trust can be funded by anyone besides the individual. This includes gifts or inheritance.
    • Any leftover money from a third-party funded trust is protected and can be left to family members or charitable organizations.

Helpful Resources

ABLE Account Overview Handout

ABLE Account FAQ

Social Security Info about ABLE Accounts

ABLE Account v. SNT Chart

ABLE Account / SNT / Pooled Comparison Chart

Impact of Pandemic on SSI Income Determination

In-Kind Support & Maintenance Overview

In-kind Support and Maintenance (ISM) is food or housing someone provides on behalf of someone else living in their home. For example, if a parent allows a child to live with them without paying rent, that is ISM. The Social Security Administration (SSA) may reduce SSI benefits because the client lives with their parents and pays less than their fair share of food or housing costs. Volunteer attorneys will meet with clients to determine their Fair Share Analysis and determine whether they can seek relief for an ISM reduction.

What counts as food or shelter?

While food is fairly straight-forward, shelter includes nearly all aspects of a recipient’s housing expenses. Under the SSA regulations, shelter includes mortgage payments, rent, electricity, gas, heating oil, water, sewer, garbage, any required property insurance, and real estate taxes.

What is the process for determining a fair share of household expenses?

Add the monthly food and shelter expenses and divide by the number of people living in the house. 

  • The age of the other members of the household do not matter. 
  • Shelter includes rent, mortgage payments (not equity lines of credit), real property taxes, property insurance required by the mortgage holder, heating fuel, gas, water, electricity, and garbage fees (not phone bill). 

EXAMPLE: Client tells you that they live in a home with 4 people (3 others plus them). You review their bills and determine that their food and shelter expenses total $3,000 for the household per month. The fair share for the client is $750 (1/4 of total household expense of $3000).

How do you notify SSA about ISM?

Assist the client with documenting the fair share analysis determination so that they can submit it to SSA.

Helpful Resources

One-Third Reduction (VTR) rule Overview

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