All Posts by Debra Robinson

Should Your Child Have A Special Needs Trust?

Parents of a child who is receiving benefits from a needs based government program (or might be eligible for such benefits in the future) must pay careful attention to their estate planning. The options available for leaving assets to the child are:

● Disinherit the child, leaving the child with no financial means beyond
government benefits;
● Leave assets to the child, causing disqualification from government benefits until the assets are spent down;
● Leave assets to a sibling of the child or another family member to use for the child, trusting that person will not use the funds for himself, or lose them through personal circumstances
such as a divorce or a lawsuit;
● Leave assets to a Special Needs Trust.

The best option to provide financially for a child with special needs is a Special Needs Trust.

What is a Special Needs Trust?

A trust is a legal entity that holds assets for someone’s benefit. The creator of the trust puts property into the trust and names a trustee to manage the property and distribute it to the beneficiary according to the provisions in the trust. A Special Needs Trust places limitations on the types of distributions that the trustee can make, so that trust distributions will not disqualify the beneficiary from eligibility for government programs.

Two Types of Special Needs Trusts

Self Settled Special Needs Trusts

A Self Settled Special Needs Trust is funded with assets that belong to the disabled beneficiary. For example, if a child becomes disabled as the result of an automobile accident, and receives a substantial settlement from litigation, the settlement funds belong to the child. If the child is eligible for government assistance, the parents can create a Self Settled Special Needs Trust to receive the settlement funds.

Third Party Special Needs Trusts

A Third Party Special Needs Trust is established by a third party with assets of the third party, for the benefit of the beneficiary. An example would be the parent of a Down Syndrome child creating a Special Needs Trust for the child as part of the parent’s estate plan.

A Third Party Special Needs Trust can be created in a Will, or can be created and funded during lifetime. A trust created during lifetime is called an “intervivos” trust. If a family member wants to make lifetime gifts to the child, or leave assets to the child by Will, an intervivos Special Needs Trust can be created to receive those assets.

Special Needs Trust Distributions

To protect the assets in a Special Needs Trust from being counted as a resource in determining the beneficiary’s eligibility for needs based programs, a Special Needs Trust directs the Trustee not to pay for services provided for by a government agency. The Trust authorizes distributions only for the beneficiary’s special or supplemental needs. Examples of distributions that might be made for a beneficiary’s special needs include specialized therapies, dental care, exercise equipment, computers, cable tv, cultural events, athletic contests, movies, and the services of a care manager.

Improper distributions from a Special Needs Trust can cause the loss of public benefits. For example, if a beneficiary receives SSI and Medicaid, cash distributions from the Special Needs Trust to the beneficiary will reduce the Beneficiary’s SSI. If the cash distributions exceed the monthly SSI payment, the beneficiary will lose SSI. If Medicaid qualification was based on receiving SSI, the beneficiary will also lose Medicaid.

Who Should be Trustee of a Special Needs Trust?

Because of the importance of making proper distributions, the trustee should be someone who either already knows or is willing and able to learn the requirements of the government programs that provide benefits to the beneficiary. The trustee could be a family member or a financial institution. Often people will name a family member and a financial institution as co-trustees, because the family member knows the beneficiary and understands his or her special needs, while the financial institution has the expertise to manage the assets and follow the distribution rules.

How is a Special Needs Trust Established?

Not all attorneys have the knowledge to prepare Special Needs Trusts. You should consult with an attorney who has experience drafting Special Needs Trusts and advising Trustees.

Need help creating a plan that is right for your family?  Call our office at 770-817-4999 to schedule a consultation today.

Estate Planning For Blended Families

Many couples would like to provide for their spouse in their wills, but also make sure their respective children from a previous marriage receive an inheritance.  They worry that if everything is left to the surviving spouse, then the survivor’s children will receive it all at the second death. It’s a very valid concern, and there are ways to deal with it.

One good solution is to create a trust, whether during lifetime or in a will.  The trust can take care of the surviving spouse by distributing the income and even invading the principal if necessary for the survivor’s health and support; but at the survivor’s death, the trust will distribute the remaining assets according to the trust creator’s plan.

For example, if the husband has two children from a prior marriage, and the wife also has two children from a prior marriage, they could create a joint revocable trust that would provide for the survivor of them, but at the second death, divide the assets equally among the four children.  Or if the wife brought significantly more assets to the marriage than the husband, it could provide that the assets would be divided 70% to her children and 30% to his.

If the couple is living in a home that was owned by the husband before the marriage, another option would be for him to provide in his will that the wife has the right to live in the house for her lifetime, but at her death, or if she remarries or moves out, ownership passes to his children.

Under Georgia law, if a married person with children dies without a will, the estate is divided equally among the surviving spouse and the children, with the surviving spouse receiving a minimum one-third share.  This could have a negative impact on a blended family.

For example, a woman who married a man with two children from a prior marriage might find herself widowed and living in a house now owned two-thirds by her stepchildren who might make things very uncomfortable for her because they wanted the house sold.  On the other hand, if the widow was financially well off and didn’t need an inheritance, but his children did, the widow would still receive one-third of his assets.

Proper estate planning is essential for everyone, but doubly so for blended families.  Many couples don’t want to discuss it, because there may be sensitive issues involved; but failing to have that discussion often causes family conflict and unintended results when someone dies.  Talking to an estate planning lawyer to create a plan that works for your family is a responsibility that should never be overlooked.

Need help creating a plan that is right for your family?  Call our office at 770-817-4999 to schedule a consultation today.

When Tax Law Changes Impact Estate Planning

With the election nearing, many are thinking about changes that may be on the horizon.  Here at Debra Robinson Law Group, we are always monitoring changes in the law that impact estate planning and, now especially, potential changes in the federal estate and gift tax exemption.Anchor

The current exclusion amount from federal estate and gift taxes is $11,580,000.  Married couples are able to double that to $23,160,000.

If the Democrats do well in the 2020 elections, the expectation is that the exemption will substantially decrease in 2021.  No one can say for sure what the new exemption would be, but most tax experts are predicting a $5,000,000 per person exemption.

For individuals with estates over $5,000,000, and married couples with estates over $10,000,000, this means a potential “use it or lose it” opportunity.

The IRS has said there will not be a clawback.  That means if the full $11,580,000 is used in 2020, and the exemption down to $5,000,000 in the year of death, the estate will keep the higher exemption amount.  It will work like the FIFO rule in accounting – the oldest exemption amount will be applied first.

There isn’t much time to implement a gifting plan that utilizes the full exemption amount before the end of the year.  If your estate could be impacted by this potential change in exclusion amount, you should consider taking action now.

Are you still wondering what is exactly right for you and your needs?  Download our free webinar to educate yourself on how you can protect your stuff in 3 easy steps.

How Do You Plan Your Estate When You Don’t Have Children?

As we navigate through the COVID pandemic, the importance of estate planning for all individuals is more clear than ever.  For people with children, estate planning is usually pretty straightforward – leave everything to the children in equal shares. Sometimes there are issues with a child who is estranged, a child who has already received too much, or a child with a problem with substance abuse. But those issues can be addressed in keeping with an overall goal to pass assets down to the children and grandchildren.

For people without children, estate planning is not that straightforward. Sometimes there are nieces and nephews who are part of your life, and are the logical ones to name as beneficiaries. But if you are an only child, you don’t even have a niece or nephew.

There is no requirement to name a family member as your beneficiary. No one is entitled to receive an inheritance simply because of a blood relationship. If you don’t want to name nieces, nephews, siblings, or cousins as your beneficiaries, then don’t.

You might name good friends, charities, your alma mater, or a combination of these, as beneficiaries. If that’s how you decide to structure your plan, be sure to have a current address, phone number and email for each friend you’ve named, as well as the exact name and the address for each charity or educational institution. If you name a national charity, be clear whether you want the bequest to go to the national organization, or be used locally.

Your Will, Trust, or beneficiary designation for a retirement plan or life insurance should have a contingent beneficiary if a friend you’ve named does not survive you. The contingent beneficiary could be the friend’s children, or that bequest could simply be voided if the friend is deceased.

You should not delay creating an estate plan because you don’t have children. If you die without a plan, state law could require that your assets be distributed to distant family members who weren’t even a part of your life. Wouldn’t you prefer to benefit close friends, or charities you care about? If you’ve worked your whole life to build up an estate, it’s your right to decide who benefits after your gone.

Are you still wondering what is exactly right for you and your needs?  Download our free webinar to educate yourself on how you can protect your stuff in 3 easy steps.

Meet The Team!

Over the past several months, my team has done a great job of keeping pace as news and needs change.  Often, they go above and beyond to bring you the best service possible.  I would like to take a moment to introduce you to the support team that is running the show at Debra Robinson Law Group.  These are the rock stars of Estate Planning law.

Nash Cloud, Support Team Administrator

Nash is a natural leader, impressing clients with his friendly disposition and (let’s face it) impossibly cute cheeks.   His passion for people, combined with his love of paper crafts, makes him a winning fit as Support Team Administrator.

Raven Robinson, Support Team Lead

Raven’s inquisitive nature and can-do attitude make her a fantastic team lead.  She is able to troubleshoot nearly any problem, even if it means repeatedly breaking into the kitchen cabinets to find an answer.  Her dedication and determination can’t be matched.

Piper Amos, Support Team Associate

Piper’s attention to detail and gentle demeanor make her a valued member of the team.  She is a true wordsmith and top notch document drafting assistant.  Also terribly soft, she is a reliable comfort companion.  She’s helping you by allowing you to pet her.  Really.

Bodie Minter-Eagle, Support Team Admin

Bodie effectively communicates needs, often his own, across all levels of the organization.  Loudly.  His no-nonsense approach to daily tasks, and play time, keep the entire team on track and priorities aligned.  So long as it is understood that providing treats for the Support Team is everyone’s top priority.

As always, my team is here for you.  Please reach out at 770-817-4999 or to schedule an appointment today.

Keeping Your Estate Plan Up To Date

​Have you ever wondered what would happen if you needed to make a small revision to your Estate Planning documents, like changing the person you would like named as your Executor?  Do you occasionally think of a question that you’d like to ask about your Plan but don’t want to book out a full, billable hour of attorney time?  As years pass after executing your documents, do you think updates may be needed but aren’t sure where to start?

Our Estate Plan Maintenance Program can help ensure that your Plan always stays up to date while providing benefits that are exclusive to Plan members. Our Annual Maintenance Program includes:

  • No charge for reasonable phone calls by you, your representatives, or your professional advisors to anyone in our office
  • Law firm initiated changes to your documents to take advantage of changes in law
  • Annual summary of your current estate plan
  • Annual checkup – we will contact you to get current information regarding changes to your family, your assets, or other matters that might affect your estate plan
  • Assistance to your disability panel to verify your disability and get your successor Trustee appointed
  • “Word processing” amendments to your estate planning documents at no additional charge. If changes are more complex than just word processing, the annual maintenance fee paid will be deducted from the bill
  • On-going guidance with funding of new assets acquired during the year
  • A meeting with your family or helpers upon your disability or death to explain the plan you created and outline the assistance available in maintaining or settling your plan (any new services, if required, will be identified and billed separately)
  • Safekeeping your original estate plan documents
  • Special pricing for family members to do planning during the year – a 15% discount
  • Referrals to attorneys with other practice specialties and to other professionals such as accountants, elder care specialists and realtors

The benefits really do speak for themselves. The annual cost for the Maintenance Program is $395 for married clients, $295 for single clients. Taking into consideration the fact that an hour of billable attorney time is $430, the value is apparent.

I am so passionate about ensuring updated, relevant plans for all of our clients, that we are offering the Annual Checkup Questionnaire that we provide to Maintenance Plan members to all clients at no charge. Simply click here to download the document. I hope that, by taking a few moments to review your family and finances, any changes that may need to be made to your Plan will become evident.

Already a Maintenace Plan member? One truly valuable benefit of the plan is the 15% discount on Estate Planning pricing that we extend to members of your family. There is no better time than the present to express your care for your family, sharing this benefit with them.

Whether it is time for a full update of your documents or simply time to make a few tweaks, my team is here for you. Please reach out at 770-817-4999 or with any questions regarding our Estate Plan Maintenance Program or to schedule an appointment today.

Planning Your Estate

When thinking about creating an estate plan, whether through a Will or a Trust, or sometimes both, many people base their planning on the assumption that they will live until a certain point in the future. A woman might think the Wills she and her husband are writing won’t need to be used until the survivor of them has died in twenty to thirty years. A fifty something working on his Will, who plans to retire when he is sixty-five, might think his Will won’t be needed until he’s been retired for at least ten years.  A couple with college age children might think their estate plan won’t go into effect until their children have completed their education, married,  and have families of their own.  Those kinds of expectations will prove to be true for some people, but not for everyone. You can’t know what the future will bring, so your estate shouldn’t be planned in the expectation that it won’t be needed until some future milestone has been met.

The better way to design your estate plan is to ask yourself what you would have wanted to happen if you had died yesterday.  Would your children have been mature enough to manage an inheritance?  Would your elderly parent have suddenly lost the financial assistance you’ve been providing? Would your widowed spouse have been vulnerable to predators?  If you think about the here and now, that will help you design a better plan.

You don’t need to change your expectation that you’ll be living many years into the future, but you should have a plan that protects the people you care about in the event that expectation isn’t met.    

An estate plan isn’t something that can be done only one time and then set in stone, never to be revised.  Families change, assets change, health changes, needs change, and the laws change.  Once created, an estate plan should be reviewed at least every five years.  When you review it, you can update it to reflect your current concerns.

Is it time to revisit your estate plan to be sure your current needs are being met?  We are scheduling appointments in person, via zoom and by telephone. Contact my office at 770-817-4999 to schedule an appointment to update your estate plan today.

Doing Our Part To Help Front Line Workers

Although a mask can provide protection from COVID-19, more is needed to ensure that you are protected in a health crisis.  This is top of mind for health care workers, first responders and educators as the global struggle with the pandemic continues.

At Debra Robinson Law Group, we strive to be there for our community, just as we are for our clients.  It is in this spirit of service that I am pleased to announce a charitable initiative from our firm aimed at providing peace of mind for essential workers in our community.

We are now offering free Health Care Directives for health care workers, first responders and educators in Fulton, Cobb, Gwinnett and Forsyth counties.

Under the federal HIPAA privacy laws, health care providers are prohibited from disclosing an adult patient’s private medical information, unless authorized by the court through a legal guardianship, or authorized by the adult in writing. It doesn’t matter if you are a relative, even if you are the mother or father.

In a Georgia Advance Directive for Health Care, an agent is named to make all health care decisions if the injured or ill adult is unable to communicate his wishes, and the agent is authorized under the HIPAA privacy laws to have access to all private medical information.

If you are an eligible essential worker, please contact our office at so that one of my staff will be able to assist you.  Please include your full name, contact information and your profession.  You will be asked to provide a copy of your professional ID as part of the process.

In an effort to make as much time available to our team as possible to work on drafting of documents, we would appreciate communication via email only for this offer.

One Person Can Make A Difference

Several months ago, one of our valued clients, Bill Fillman, reached out for assistance in incorporating a non-profit designed to help local restaurants and front line workers struggling in the wake of COVID-19.  This week, he is up and running and so I’ve invited him to share the story of North Fulton Food It Forward, Inc.  The work he is doing helps boost our community in multiple ways.  I hope that if you are in a position to give, you will consider a donation to this exceptional organization.

IT STARTED WITH CUPCAKES … Long story short, I wanted to bring some smiles to local essential workers and happened to be in a bakery when the thought was present.  Once a month for the past several months I have been delivering 7-15 dozen cupcakes to local essential workers… It’s just rewarding to receive their smiles in return. 

Then COVID-19 arrived, and shortly thereafter I happened to watch a TV interview with Leslie Gudel, who started a non-profit called “Food It Forward” in Pennsylvania, giving gift cards from local eateries to local essential workers fighting the pandemic.  And I thought, “I could do that”.

With a starter kit from Leslie and a bit of advice from Debbie on non-profit incorporation, North Fulton Food It Forward, Inc. was on its way. It has recently received its 501(c)(3) tax exemption as a public charity, so donors can deduct contributions they make.  And on July 19, 2020, the website went live.

100% of all donations directed through will go directly to purchasing gift cards from Alpharetta and Johns Creek locally-based restaurants, which helps owners and employees.

100% of those gift cards will be donated to Emory Johns Creek hospital, The Memory Center (Johns Creek), local nursing care homes, and local fire stations and police stations for their essential workers.

Our local N. F. restaurants have already suffered greatly. Some restaurants have shut down while others have been reduced to “drive through” businesses, at best, which has been financially devastating for both the owners and their employees. 

Meanwhile, the strain on health care and first responder essential workers has grown dramatically.  Health care workers are putting their lives at risk every hour of every day for us.  A lesser-publicized reality is that municipal tax revenues are sinking, seriously jeopardizing the jobs of first responders who are risking their lives for us every day.

The team at North Fulton Food It Forward donates our time to hosting the website, contacting the restaurants, confirming they issue gift cards, ordering the gift cards, and delivering the gift cards because we want to help our community thrive.  Restaurants are helped, front line workers are helped.  When you donate, you should feel good about that. And, know that we are so very grateful to you for your donations which will help us reach more restaurants and more essential workers.

Thank you for your support,

Bill Fillman

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Welcoming Change In Challenging Times

I consider one of the greatest accomplishments of our firm to be the relationships that are forged with our clients.  Our administrative team is among the best and valued clients often express gratitude for the experience, kindness and care that is evident in their interactions.

So it is with gratitude of my own that I wish to share with you that Linda Carroll, our firm administrator of more than a decade, has retired.  We wish her much happiness in her future endeavors and are appreciative for all that she has brought to our firm.

With her departure, we turn the page on a new chapter led by a new firm administrator.  Randy Cloud brings over a decade of management experience with a strong focus on client experience and operational excellence.  His ability to balance daily operations while developing a strategic vision for the firm’s future makes Randy instrumental to the team’s continued success.  He is responsible for managing business development, client relationships, office operations and financial accounting.

Randy has learned the importance of proper estate planning through a very personal experience.  In his early 20’s, Randy’s mother passed away unexpectedly without a completed will.  He spent the next year navigating probate while trying to grieve his loss.  This experience, combined with a desire to protect his own young family, has inspired a passion to help all families achieve peace of mind while planning for the future.

Randy spent his childhood in Maine and after attending Winthrop University in South Carolina, Randy settled in Atlanta.  His three-year-old son, Nash, loves spending time outdoors.  As a family they enjoy cooking, camping, biking and canoeing.

I am looking forward to each of you having an opportunity to get to know Randy in the coming years.

As always, we are here to serve you.  Please contact us at 770-817-4999 or at to schedule an appointment today.

Be well,

Debra Robinson

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