All posts by ahgroup

ABLE Accounts and Special Needs Pooled Trusts

It’s vital for non-profits and human service providers that manage special needs pooled trusts to understand the role that ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) accounts play in the overall financial planning picture.

While ABLE accounts now offer a new tax-advantaged savings plan for families caring for loved ones with disabilities and other special needs, trustees need not perceive ABLE accounts as competition to the special needs pooled trusts and services they offer.

ABLE accounts are often described as personal savings plans akin to 529b college savings plans. They can be set up quickly and easily, often without a lawyer. When Congress passed The ABLE Act in 2014, they never intended for these accounts to be run by institutions, such as human service providers, or non-profit organizations.

ABLE accounts were also never intended to be a replacement for any type of special needs trusts—pooled or otherwise. It’s not an either/or proposition. ABLE accounts and special needs pooled trusts co-exist, albeit with different advantages, and limitations. Families can and do set-up both types of vehicles within their caregiving plan.

When used appropriately, ABLE accounts and special needs pooled trusts pose solutions that address different kinds of special needs problems and challenges. In reality, they have different rules governing who qualifies, who can contribute, how much can be invested annually, how the funds can be used, among other stipulations.

But they share the same purpose, to preserve the personal wealth or income of disabled individuals AND in enabling the person to qualify for means-tested public benefits, such as Medicaid and SSI.

Provider Trust and ABLE Comparison Infographic

Failure to follow the rules governing ABLE accounts or special needs pooled trusts—such as the amount of money that can be deposited annually or the total allowable fund balance—could result in the beneficiary losing their government benefits until their fund is put back in compliance. And poor investment decisions could cause the fund’s value to decline or erode.

The more informed the public is as to the differences between ABLE accounts and special needs pooled trusts, the more likely it is that they will determine the right financial management solution for their unique, personal circumstances. And the more likely they are to avoid making costly financial or fiduciary mistakes with their love one’s precious assets.

It’s advantageous that special needs pooled trusts have qualified, knowledgeable trustees or managers at the helm. ABLE accounts, on the other hand, are often managed by family, friends or guardians who may not fully understand the ramifications their financial management decisions could have on the beneficiaries.

In subsequent blogs, we’ll be taking a closer look at the unique advantages, limitations, and potential pitfalls posed by ABLE accounts, as compared with special needs pooled trusts. Stay tuned!

VENDOR SPOTLIGHT – The InFocus Project

The In-Focus Project runs an on-line photographic art gallery that is part of Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children (CSAAC) in Montgomery County, Maryland. The program teaches adults with autism the art of photography and helps sell the work on CSAAC’s website. In-Focus started in 2008 with six adults in order to bring out their artistic abilities and continues working with them today.

The group meets on a weekly basis. One week the participants will take photographs and then the following week they edit and print their favorites.

The brain-child of Craig Pardini—CSAAC’s Director of Facilities and a professional photographer himself at–In-Focus was developed so that individuals with an interest in art could take photographs throughout the community. Significantly, the Project shines a light on what the participants choose to express; each photo is a snapshot of what they see as important, beautiful, striking or representative of their world.

Craig Pardini

Craig Pardini, Creator of InFocus Project 

Director of Facilities at CSAAC


Craig and other instructors for the In-Focus Project volunteer their time so the participating photographers have a voice through these photos, whether verbal or not, they each gain a chance to tell their stories in photographs. The In-Focus Project has given participates a place to create art and develop communication skills.

Craig describes in what ways the particpants’ photography and communication skills have improved,

“When the program first started, nearly all the photos were blurry and subject matter was cut off. Over time, they became focused, sharp and with good composition.”

Indeed, one of Craig’s photography students advanced so far to submit a piece to the President. The individual was invited to the White House to photograph the President and a landing of Marine One.
“Over the past few years, some of the individuals are now able and willing to communicate with TV or reporters or others interested in their work. They feel comfortable discussing their artwork to outsiders and critique each other on their photographs.”

Craig offered two specific examples of photographers participating in the program and how they have grown. These are Brian and James.
“Brian is a natural at creating landscape-style images. He knows how to angle the camera to ensure the subject shows its natural beauty. He enjoys capturing ‘fine’ detail. With focusing on the small details, his photographs create scenes that can only come out of his imagination. His snaps are so elaborate that it is easy to miss some of the meticulously chosen elements that comprise his work. Photography is one of the few areas where the observer can see what an individual with autism sees or deems to be an important aspect of the stimuli that surround him.

“James is a natural with the quick shot. He has the ability to capture his subject in motion and centered in the frame. He enjoys photographing people and is a fine portrait artist. He would like to be a sports photographer one day and his work is mostly drawn from people that he meets along his photo shoots. He often creates scenes based upon seeing people in the community. His photography is equal parts expression, connection and reaction.”

In-Focus received a grant to assist with starting the program through the Letaw Foundation and they have an online store to help fund the program’s operating needs. The store offers the participants a place to display their pieces and opportunities to prepare them for sale and ship to buyers. The photographers themselves curate the gallery adding new photographs annually and perform a group effort in choosing the images that get published including commenting, critiquing and critique, comment and offer encouragement to each other.

The gallery can be found on the CSAAC website.  Printed photographs sell for roughly $60.00 each and come in 8”x10” or 11”x14”.

Goodwill to Those with ID

Kristen Ford-Hernandez is the mother of Jaden, a child with Intellectual Disabilities.  As a parent you may often find yourself facing issues you are not prepared for or know how to address, as a parent of a child with ID those issues may become more frequent and challenging as they get older.

When Jaden turned 16, he began talking about getting a job so he could make his own money.  His mother immediately began asking herself questions knowing that finding a job for Jaden would be challenging.

Kristen and Jaden had talked about his pain and frustration when he heard a classmate making fun of others with ID; he was concerned that people didn’t understand how much ABILITY those with ID may have.  After hearing Jaden’s message, Kristen did some research and found that there were some opportunities for young adults with ID available but they often didn’t provide a financially competitive opportunity.  So they decided to develop a business that would offer those opportunities to earn a fair wage as well as build confidence, personal growth and financial stability.

ACTabilities wants to spread the message of Acceptance, Consideration and Tolerance.  You can help do that by purchasing the variety of products the company produces.  They offer 100% natural soy candles, all natural castile soaps, holiday ornaments, cards, and more!ACTabilities production line

Help spread the message of Acceptance, Consideration and Tolerance this holiday season and support this amazing business.  For more information about ACTabilites visit their website

“Gifts that Give”

Extraordinary Ventures is a wonderful not-for-profit organization located in Chapel Hill, NC that creates and nurtures self-sustaining small businesses designed around the skills of the young adults with autism and developmental disabilities that serve as its workforce.  EV’s workforce currently consists of 5 managers who oversee a staff of 40 young men and women with ASD and/or developmental disabilities.  These employees receive training and are placed in jobs based on their interests and skills.

Extraordinary Ventures operates five businesses; 1. a laundry service, 2. an office services company, 3. a bus cleaning and maintenance service, 4. an events center that rents space for meeting and conferences, and 5. a business that produces and markets premium candles and soaps.  Since the holidays are right around the corner we’re going to feature the last business venture.

EV Gifts are truly “Gifts that Give”.  They feature handmade bath products such as sugar scrubs, soaps in scents like Sandalwood, and Lemon Eucalyptus, and premium scented candles in a wide variety of scents including Fresh Cut Grass, Pear Blossom, Lavender, and many holiday inspired

Each high quality product sold directly employs adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  EV seeks to help bridge the gap between education and vocation by providing communication structures and manufacturing skills that emphasize the strengths of their unique employees therefor building their self-esteem and proving that they are valuable assets to their community.

If you are looking for a holiday gift that helps make a difference in another person’s life consider looking at what Extraordinary Ventures Gifts have to offer this holiday season.  You can find the products they offer at

If you would like more information about Extraordinary Ventures go to their website