Vote for my idea
I am one of five finalists in a competition to recognize the best new legal product ideas. I want to make a free app that will tell a Wisconsin person if they need a special needs trust and refer them to a qualified attorney, saving them an average of $35,000, time, and their SSI or Medicaid benefits. If I win, this website will host that app.
A free app that saves money from SSI and Medicaid
Iam participating in a contest, put on by Afterpattern, to recognize the best new legal product ideas and help turn them into a reality. I have proposed an app that will (1) determine if a Wisconsin person needs a special needs trust, and (2) assemble the documents required to establish a sub-account in Wispact Trust I or II and refer to a qualified attorney to complete the legal service. I’m calling it the Special Needs in Wisconsin App.
If I win the contest, I will build that app and host it on this website.
A special needs trust saves money while allowing its beneficiary to continue qualifying for SSI or Medicaid. These programs require a recipient to have less than $2,000 in countable resources. So when a person on SSI or Medicaid receives a lump sum of money—such as an inheritance—it’s actually a problem. A special needs trust is the solution. It allows the money to be set aside to supplement, rather than supplant, public benefits.
Wispact, Inc. is a non-profit that maintains pooled special needs trusts in Wisconsin. A sub-account in a Wispact trust is usually the easiest, fastest, and most cost-effective way to protect money for a recipient of SSI or Medicaid. About 650 new Wispact sub-accounts are created each year. Establishing one requires an attorney, but Wispact has a grant program that often reimburses up to $2,000 of the legal fees. It’s not a guaranteed grant, but any Wispact trust funded with less than $75,000 can apply. Because the average amount put in a Wispact sub-account is $35,000, establishing one is often effectively free for the beneficiary. The biggest barriers to establishing a Wispact sub-account are knowing that you need one, finding an attorney, and time.
This app will help on all fronts. It will allow any public user to determine if a special needs trust is probably right for them and, if so, get the Wispact application started and sent to an attorney who can complete it quickly. The app will make things easy for the attorney with checklists, forms, references, and guidance—because speed is essential. If the trust is not created by the end of the month, it can mean losing thousands of dollars in benefits.
The start of something more
Although this app is ambitious enough on its own, I see it as the start of something more. Wisconsin needs more lawyers who will take on elder law and special needs work. Many current elder law attorneys have more work than they can handle, but few new lawyers are entering the practice area. This problem is acute in Wisconsin’s many rural areas, which also have more elderly and disabled populations. What’s more, many of the lawyers who pioneered elder law in Wisconsin will soon retire. Who will replace them?
We need new elder law and special needs lawyers. Apps like this one can meet that need by making it easier to enter the practice area. This app will do more than fill in the blanks in some form documents: it will standardize and automate a complete process for completing this piece of legal work. If a user doesn’t have a piece of information, for example, it will create the letter or release form needed to get the information. Most importantly, I want to eventually publish an online handbook to give attorneys all the knowledge they’ll need to perform the service.
I hope this app will serve as a proof-of-concept. I envision a new kind of legal publisher that makes high quality, practical legal guides combined with apps putting that knowledge into action—all in small, underserved legal markets. If it works, this will make it much easier for attorneys to enter new, in-demand practice areas, ultimately increasing access to justice in small states, rural areas, and other underserved markets.
My legal product business plan
Idea: A free app for Wisconsin special needs trusts
A special needs trust can save a person’s money while allowing them to continue qualifying for SSI or Medicaid. But many recipients of public benefits don’t know about special needs trusts. They might get a check from a relative’s estate and not cash it for months. They need the money, but they also need the benefits—which they can only keep if they have less than $2,000 in most cases.
What they need is a special needs trust. And before they can get a special needs trust, they need to know that they need a special needs trust. That’s where the Special Needs in Wisconsin App can help.
The Special Needs in Wisconsin App will (1) tell you if you probably need a special needs trust, and (2) refer you to a qualified Wisconsin attorney who can get you one. It will send that attorney all the information they need to get started quickly. And speed is important. Every month of delay might be another month of lost benefits.
The most common type of special needs trust in Wisconsin is a Wispact trust. Wispact, Inc. is a Wisconsin non-profit that manages pooled trusts. A pooled trust is one big trust with many sub-accounts for disabled beneficiaries. (Technically, you don’t create a “Wispact trust,” you create a sub-account in an already-existing Wispact pooled trust. But it’s useful shorthand to just say “Wispact trust.”) About 650 new Wispact sub-accounts are created each year, and the average amount put in each sub-account is about $35,000.
A Wispact trust is often the easiest, simplest, and fastest way to create a special needs trust in Wisconsin. It’s also the cheapest. That’s because Wispact has a grant program that can reimburse up to $2,000 of the legal fees involved in creating a Wispact trust. It’s not a guaranteed grant, but any Wispact trust funded with less than $75,000 can apply.
All this means the average Wisconsinite using the Special Needs in Wisconsin App will (1) immediately find out of they need a special needs trust, and (2) save $35,000 of their own money, their public benefits, and up to $2,000 in legal fees. That’s a lot of value.
Of course, that Wisconsinite will be referred to a Wisconsin elder law or special needs attorney, and that attorney will be getting something valuable from this app as well. They will be getting an already-qualified client who needs a profitable legal service. The app will also—with the user’s permission—send that attorney all the information and forms needed to get started. Because the app will collect a lot of information up front, it can pre-assemble much of the paperwork required. In short, the attorney will get everything needed to complete the legal service of setting up a Wispact trust intelligently, confidently, quickly, and accurately.
With both users and attorneys getting so much value, how will this app make money? First of all, I believe it’s important to make this app always free for public users. Beneficiaries of SSI or Medicaid will not have to pay to use this app.
Second, I expect this app to generate work for my own practice. To the extent this app helps me help more clients, it will be profitable for me.
Finally, I might eventually charge attorneys for the value they get from this app: new clients, actionable information, and pre-assembled forms. But only if it makes sense and would be well received by the community of Wisconsin elder law and special needs attorneys. This app will be successful even if I never monetize it in this way, and the more important thing is to first prove that this app is valuable to both its users and the attorneys they work with.
Build: How this app will become a reality
The Special Needs in Wisconsin App will consist of an online form and document automation. The form will be a TurboTax-style interview, which will collect the relevant information from the user. It will start by asking the user only the questions needed to determine if they should probably have a special needs trust. If they should, the app will move on to collecting as much information as possible and referring them to a qualified Wisconsin elder law or special needs attorney. The app then assemble the documents needed to establish a sub-account in a Wispact trust. The user can then have the app send the pre-filled forms to that attorney.
I will use Afterpattern to build this app. Using Afterpattern, I can create an interview with rules-based logic, securely collect and store information from a user, and use that information to assemble whatever documents are needed. Because Afterpattern requires no coding, I can build this app myself. I expect it to take one month of working on this app mostly full-time to be able to launch the first version. I very well might hire a developer to build it for me, though, depending on how busy my solo elder law practice happens to be.
Another important component is this website. Currently it exists to showcase my idea for the competition, but afterwards it will host the app and lots of educational content about special needs trusts in Wisconsin. This site’s purpose will be to educate Wisconsinites about special needs trusts, rank high in SEO, and get visitors to use the app. To that end, I’ll be using my knowledge as an elder law attorney and my skill in writing and as a former attorney editor to write and publish about special needs trusts. I will focus on the basics and answering all the common questions I hear from my clients.
Go-to-Market: How people will discover this app
Wisconsinites will discover this app in a number of ways. They will find it when they search for information about special needs trusts, public benefits, and inheritances. I will tell my current and past clients about it, so they can either use it themselves or refer others to it. Users of the app will be able to notify friends and family, who will need to update their own estate planning to add a special needs trust. And other professionals in the realm of elder law and special needs planning will refer people to this app as an easy way to get answers to their questions and get started on an important and urgent piece of legal work.
SEO will be my primary marketing tactic. It will not be difficult to rank high for searches related to Wisconsin special needs trusts. Although the search volume is low, this site does not need many visitors to be worthwhile. It’s aimed at the small number of Wisconsinites who need a special needs trust. SEO will be helped by the fact that this site is fast; it is using Dreampress managed WordPress hosting and the Focus theme by DIYthemes.
Of course, I have current and past clients who could benefit from using this app, or who have family who could benefit. They will be natural first users and help get word-of-mouth marketing started.
This app has the potential to be a viral product, as well, meaning a product where one user naturally leads to more users. When a beneficiary of SSI or Medicaid needs a first-party special needs trust, that person’s family also typically should establish third-party special needs trusts. This app will generate emails or letters to family members advising them to review their estate plans and encouraging them to use the app to get started.
Finally—and perhaps most importantly—I believe other professionals will refer people to this site and app. My goal is to get this app to be accepted, used, and referred to by the many people in Wisconsin who work with the elderly and disabled:
- Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs)—These county agencies exist to connect disabled and elderly Wisconsinites with the benefits and programs available to them, and often refer to Wisconsin elder law and special needs attorneys.
- Financial advisors—Advisors often drive their clients to get estate planning and special needs planning done.
- Social workers
- Non-profits for people with disabilities
- Attorneys who do not practice in this area
Frequently Asked Questions
What will it cost to use this app?
This app will always be free to public users. At launch, it will also be free for the attorneys receiving referrals from the app. I might charge attorneys at some point in the future, but only if I can prove its value and get buy-in from the community of Wisconsin elder law and special needs attorneys I am part of myself.
Will this app replace lawyers?
No. A qualified attorney is always needed to establish a sub-account in a Wispact pooled trust, and it would be foolish for anyone to establish a special needs trust without a lawyer. The purpose of this app is to connect Wisconsinites with a qualified attorney, reduce the administrative work involved, and give that attorney everything he or she needs to complete the service with speed and accuracy.
If you have feedback for me, I’d love to hear it. Email me at [email protected]
My name is Benjamin Scott Wright. I practice elder law in River Falls and New Richmond, Wisconsin. I fondly remember my short time as an attorney editor at the State Bar of Wisconsin after graduating law school, and I’ve always loved to write and publish. That’s why I do things like this website and app.
I know this is an ambitious plan and a big vision. I know it won’t all go exactly as planned. But I believe there’s an opportunity to create something new and valuable here, and I’m excited to go for it.