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Sushama Kirtikar
TO BE A MODEL - SHOWING CONCERN FOR OTHER AMERICANS IS VITALTY?
By SUSHAMA KIRTIKAR - sushamak@verizon.net

Ah yes, you have often fantasized of being a model. OK. Not the kind you are envisioning with a runway, but the kind we examined last month. If we wish to accept and embrace the title of “model minority,” the bona fide test is whether we are living up to the image. We don’t just get bestowed with laurels. We have to earn them and then we have to uphold them with dignity. We need to do more than simply bask under the glow of the moniker. With a reward comes responsibility. So, how do you and I intend to be a model immigrant?

A recent report trumpets, “According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Indian Americans have the highest median income of any national origin group in the U.S. ($60,093), and Merrill Lynch recently revealed that there are nearly 200,000 Indian American millionaires.” But what does all this mean? Tom Van Riper at Forbes.com describes the average American, “Mr. and Mrs. Median's $46,326 in annual income is 32 percent higher than their mid-1960s counterparts … Despite their material prosperity, though, the Medians are a grumpy lot.” He was referring to the fact that higher income does not correlate to happiness.



The intent is not to trounce prosperity. The design is to focus on factors contributing to happiness, which lead to a “model life” that can be emulated by others, mainly the next generation. At the rudimentary level, we want to examine the various roles we play in life: spouse, parent, child, sibling, friend, co-worker, employer/employee, neighbor, citizen/resident and finally as a human being. After clearly delineating each role for ourselves, we begin to look at how we have executed each role, de facto.

People begin to taste satisfaction when they first identify the lapses in their responsibilities of each role, plan to rectify them and then act on them. We start with taking care of ourselves and then expand outward to our immediate relationships, followed by extended relationships, and then the outer circle of the community at large. By that, I mean not just the Indian community, but the full medley of ethnicities as well. That is of paramount importance; to show concern for other Americans regardless of diversity. That is what entitles us to being “model immigrants.” We cannot just arrive here and live an insulated life and expect to be accepted with open arms.

How would you rate yourself? Is the image in the mirror endearing or shocking or disenchanting to behold? Are there gaps and holes in the image like a bullet ridden body? Are those the roles you neglected through oversight or sheer indolence or worse indifference? How jarring is this to your nerves? Or, are you fully satisfied? Most of us fall somewhere in between these two ends. We experience a smattering of disillusionment in our selves interspersed with a laissez-faire gratification. As the year draws to a close, it is time to take stock. This is the time to do damage control and begin to fill the gaps in our self image. It is still possible to be a bellwether of model living.

Sushama Kirtikar, a licensed mental health counselor in private practice, can be reached at (813) 264-7114 or e-mail at sushamak@verizon.net


Finance | Financial advice | Immigration | Special Needs | Accounting | Business | Labor Law | Asset Protection



Dr. Ram P. Ramcharran
HOW DO I KNOW IF A SPECIAL NEEDS TRUST IS RIGHT MY CHILD?
By Dr. RAM P. RAMCHARRAN

Special Needs Trusts (SNTs) can play a critical role in preserving the financial and personal well being of a person with disabilities. But how do you know if an SNT is right for your child? While you'll need to consult a qualified disability and elder law attorney to determine exactly how this type of trust would work in your situation, knowing some SNT "basics" is an important part of planning for your child's future.

WHAT IS AN SNT — AND HOW CAN IT HELP?

The SNT is a trust designed to hold supplemental funds for the benefit of an individual with disabilities who receives "means-tested" public benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Regardless of your financial circumstances, your child may qualify for SSI as an adult if he or she meets the requirements of the Social Security Administration (SSA), including having no more than $2,000 in assets (with certain exceptions).

SSI opens the door to important benefits such as Medicaid, Section 8 housing, rehabilitative care and transportation assistance, but it provides only a small monthly income. Most parents want to supplement those funds to enhance their children's quality of life, but doing so directly will place public benefits in jeopardy. That's where SNTs come in.

Parents can fund SNTs and have the assets used to enrich their children's lives. Because assets held in a properly drafted SNT are owned by the trust, not the beneficiary — and distributions from the trust are paid out to third parties, not to the beneficiary — SSA does not count the assets in an SNT when determining eligibility for SSI.

HOW DO YOU CREATE AN SNT?

While many attorneys handle trusts and estate planning, it is important for families who decide to establish SNTs to retain the services of disability and elder law attorneys. These attorneys have expertise in the laws governing SNTs, which are state-specific and may be subject to frequent change, and can help families coordinate the creation of trusts and wills to meet both special-needs and other estate-planning goals.

HOW CAN YOU FUND AN SNT?

SNTs can be funded with many types of assets via gifts or bequests. Some parents prefer to establish an SNT during their lifetime so they — and others — can contribute when and how they wish. In some cases, parents delay the funding of the trust until after their death, naming the SNT as a beneficiary of retirement plans, investment accounts or other assets. Still others purchase life insurance policies, such as "second-to-die" policies, payable to the SNT. I suggest you discuss the options with your financial professional.

WHO WILL MANAGE YOUR SNT?

Like other types of trusts, SNTs must be overseen by trustees. These individuals (or entities) are responsible for such functions as record keeping, tax filing and the investment and distribution of trust assets. SNT trustees also have numerous responsibilities related to the beneficiary's day-to-day well being.

One alternative is naming a disability and elder law attorney as trustee — or as co-trustee or successor trustee. Parents who retain professional trustees can remain involved in trust oversight by becoming trust protectors. This role allows them to monitor the trustee's actions and ensure they are consistent with the intent of the trust, while not assuming the fiduciary responsibility of the trustee.

HOW WILL THE SNT FUNDS BE USED?

While the purpose of establishing an SNT is to enhance the lifestyle of an individual with disabilities, how disbursements from the trust are made is carefully regulated by the SSA and the IRS. Improper disbursements can result in a loss of or reduction in monthly benefits for the person with disabilities. To avoid this consequence, trustees must disburse payments only to third parties — providers of goods and services — and exclusively for expenses not covered by SSI.

These are just some of the basics you need to consider before setting a SNT. I strongly suggest you find a qualified professional who is experienced in this arena. Many financial and legal professional think they can deploy the necessary tools to protect your children’s benefits but it’s a highly special area where it’s easy to make mistake. Be prudent in your choice of professional.

Dr. Ram P. Ramcharran can be reached at ramramcharran@hotmail.com



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