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Protecting Futures and Enhancing Lives: Achieva Family Trust

By Kevin Brown

Jackson, 33, has an intellectual disability. His father passed away suddenly and left him an inheritance. Those funds, combined with Jackson’s savings, made him ineligible to continue receiving government benefits to provide for his medical care and other much-needed services. Achieva Family Trust opened a pooled trust for Jackson so that he could continue to receive vital benefits and services now and into the future.

Jackson’s situation, happily resolved, is just one example of the help that Achieva Family Trust provides to assist people with disabilities.

Established in 1998, Achieva Family Trust is a subsidiary corporation of Achieva, a provider of residential, employment and many other support services to those with physical, intellectual and mental disabilities. Today, Achieva Family Trust manages 2,400 trusts with more than $180 million in assets and is the largest non-profit trust in Pennsylvania. Headquartered in Pittsburgh, Achieva Family Trust maintains offices in Erie, the Capital Region, and Philadelphia.

“Achieva Family Trust serves as corporate trustee for special needs trusts for people with disabilities,” says Amy Dolan Strano, president and CEO of Achieva Family Trust. “Because we're serving people with disabilities, they require additional services that a lot of corporate trustees, such as banks and financial institutions, can't provide. Our trust administrators all have significant social service experience with intellectual disability services, with mental health services, and with services for people with physical disabilities. Our trust administrators are looking to maximize the available government benefits to our beneficiaries,” she explains.

Trust administrators average 20 years or more of social service experience each. They also provide benefits counseling and future planning and connect beneficiaries with a variety of resources, from case management to expert legal advice.

Certain government benefits such as supplemental security (SSI) and Medicaid are “means-tested”, meaning the benefits are provided based on income and assets.  “You have to be poor, low income and not have a lot of assets in order to receive those benefits,” explains Amy. “If someone's checking or savings account gets too high, that would either disqualify them for the government benefits, their benefits could be reduced or eliminated, or they would not be eligible if they were newly applying,” she notes. Putting those assets into a trust ensures that the beneficiary can continue to receive vital government benefits, while still having access to the trust funds to pay for the things they need.

Three types of trusts are available through Achieva Family Trust, all under the title of “Special Needs Trusts,” according to information on the Achieva Family Trust website.

The Pooled Trust is a trust where the assets of all the beneficiaries are combined (or “pooled”) for investment purposes. The trustee still separately accounts for individuals’ interest in the trust. These trusts can be established quickly and easily by beneficiaries.

A Payback Trust is used when a beneficiary is receiving funds such as a settlement from a personal injury or other lawsuit. This trust allows them to pay for expenses that are not covered by government benefits, including home modifications, adapted vehicles and specialized treatments or medications. The beneficiary continues to qualify for their government benefits, but upon the death of the beneficiary, any funds remaining must be used to “pay back” the state(s) for Medicaid services received.

A Third Party Trust is established by friends or family on behalf of an individual with a disability to provide for the beneficiary while still preserving the individual’s eligibility for essential, lifelong supports and services.

Achieva Family Trust also operates a Charitable Residual Account. When a beneficiary has passed, any existing Pooled Trust funds become part of the Charitable Residual Account and are used to benefit individuals with disabilities. Since 2005, the Trust has provided more than $8,000,000 in goods and services to people with disabilities in need.

In addition to administering trusts, Achieva Family Trust provides other services such as benefits counseling and future planning to support beneficiaries and their families. They also offer educational resources including webinars, newsletters and seminars. “Get Wise Wednesdays” is a new event the Trust started this year. “During the last Wednesday of the month, we have staff available to take phone calls and talk about future planning, special needs trusts, ABLE accounts, and other topics that people have questions about,” Amy says. “We encourage people to call in on “Get Wise Wednesdays” and have their questions answered,” she notes.

Because of Achieva Family Trust, individuals like Jackson have the services and benefits they need now, as well as a secure future. As they say in their tagline, “Protecting Futures and Enhancing Lives”, Achieva Family Trust truly offers valuable services.

The Achieva Family Trust website at www.achievafamilytrust.org offers a wealth of information about their services and includes an archive of webinars, newsletters, planning guides, and more. Experts are also available at 412-995-5000, ext. 565.

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