What Should I Know About a Special Needs Trust?

Leaving assets to loved ones with disabilities in a special needs trust can provide support while preserving government benefits.

Your loved ones with disabilities may be eligible for a number of government programs. However, Pauls Valley (OK) Democrat’s recent article asks “Can your family benefit from a special needs trust?” The article reminds us that these programs don’t cover everything. You may need to close the gaps.

Many government programs have eligibility restrictions based on the amount and type of financial assets that are available to the recipient. This means the financial help you want to provide may do more harm than good, unless you establish a special needs trust.

A special needs trust, also known as a supplemental needs trust and by the acronym SNT, is a trust that provides assets for a disabled beneficiary in the discretion of the trustee.  The beneficiary typically can’t use the trust for basic support or to receive benefits that can be provided by the government. The special needs trust can be used to provide specialized therapy, special equipment, recreational outings and other expenses.  In short, for the needs not already served by the government benefits.

These types of trusts come up more often than people realize.  Often, clients consider making special needs trust for their children with disabilities.  But, it is also important to consider that elderly loved ones may utilize Medicaid for their long-term care.  If they do (or might) then it makes sense to set up a special needs trust for them as well.  This might be for elderly parents, siblings, or even spouses!  See our overview for more detail.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/practice-areas/elder-law/

When considering a special needs trust, you’ll need to look at several issues with your attorney.  First, whose assets will it hold?  If the disabled individual is creating or funding a trust with their own assets (called a First Party Special Needs Trust), you have a very different set of rules which I won’t address here.  If you are creating the special needs trust for someone else (called a Third Party Special Needs Trust) you need to consider who will be the trustee.

You could name a family member or close friend as a trustee. While this works well for many, it has the potential to cause family conflicts and becomes a burden.  You could also name a trust company.  A trust company can provide professional management, expertise and continuity of administration, especially for younger beneficiaries who will outlive their care providers. A third option is to name an individual and a trust company as trustees.

The second critical issue with a special needs trust is funding the trust. You can fund the trust during your lifetime or have it activated when you die.  Note that you don’t have to be the sole donor. A special needs trust can be created so other family members can also contribute to it, as long as the person receiving benefits doesn’t contribute.  The trust can be funded with securities (stocks and bonds), IRA proceeds, insurance death benefits and other assets. 

You’ll need to understand the requirements of various federal, state and local benefit programs for people with disabilities, so that your loved one’s benefits are not at risk.

Speak with an experienced elder law or estate planning attorney about how you can to make life better for a family member with disabilities by using a special needs trust.

Reference:  Pauls Valley (OK) Democrat (August 1, 2019) “Can your family benefit from a special needs trust?”

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Why an Attorney Should Help with a Medicaid Application

Seniors should consider medicaid asset protection planning as part of their estate plan.
Hiring an attorney to prepare a Medicaid application may save money in the long run and get your loved one the care they need.

Elder law attorneys can be very helpful when it is time to complete a Medicaid application, and they can save money in the long run, ensuring that you (or a loved one) get the best care. Instead of waiting to see how wrong the process can get, says The Middletown Press, it’s best to “Use a lawyer for Medicaid planning” right from the start. Here’s why.

Conflict of interests. When a nursing home refers a family to people for preparing the Medicaid application or offers to complete it themselves, very often the person has dual loyalties: to the nursing home who refers them the work (or signs their checks), and to the family who will pay them a fee for help with applying for benefits. Whose interests comes first?

Everyone wants the Medicaid application to be successful, but let’s be realistic. It’s in the nursing home’s best interest that the resident pays privately for as long as possible, before going on Medicaid. It’s in the resident or family member’s best interest to protect the family’s assets for care for the resident’s spouse or family.

An attorney has a duty of loyalty only to his client. He also has an ethical and professional responsibility to put her client’s needs ahead of her own.

Saving money is possible. Nursing homes in some areas cost as much as $15,000 a month, in Texas they tend to be cheaper, but still in the several thousands.  While every market and every law practice is different, it would be unusual for legal fees to cost more than a month in the facility. With an experienced attorney’s help, you might save more than her fee in long-term care and related costs.

Further, attorneys can find ways to complete a Medicaid application and successfully obtain benefits without simply spending all of your assets before applying.  Many times nursing home staff will offer to do the Medicaid application after the assets are nearly entirely spent.  A quality elder law attorney will find ways to complete and file a successful Medicaid application while protecting your legacy.

The benefit of experience. It’s all well and good to read through pages of online information (Google, Esq.), but nothing beats the years of experience that an attorney who practices in this area can bring provide.  Any professional in any field develops knowledge of the ins and outs of an area and applying for Medicaid is no different. Without experience, it’s hard to know how it all works.  See Mary’s blog for more detail about how an attorney helps with this process.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/when-you-need-an-elder-law-attorney/

Peace of mind from a reliable, reputable source. Consulting with an experienced attorney about a Medicaid application will help you avoid years of wondering, if there was more you could have done to help yourself or your loved one.

There are multiple opportunities for nursing home residents to preserve assets for themselves and spouses, children and grandchildren, particularly when a family member has long term care needs. However, here’s a key fact: if you wait for the last minute, there will be far less options than if you begin planning long before there’s a need for a Medicaid application.

Reference: The Middletown Press (July 29, 2019) “Use a lawyer for Medicaid planning”







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How Do Trusts Work in Your Estate Plan?
Trusts offer many benefits, so speak with your attorney on how to fit them in your estate plan.

How Do Trusts Work in Your Estate Plan?

Trusts offer many benefits including probate avoidance, tax and disability planning and protecting beneficiaries.
Trusts offer many benefits including probate avoidance, tax and disability planning and protecting beneficiaries.

Trusts can be useful tools for passing on assets, allowing them to be held by a responsible trustee for the benefit of the beneficiaries. However, determining which type of trust is best for each family’s situation and setting them up so they work with an estate plan can be complex. You’ll do better with the help of an estate planning attorney, says The Street in the article “How to Set Up a Trust Fund: What You Need to Know.”

There are lots of reasons to use trusts.  Many are used to avoid the time and difficulty involved with the probate process.  Others are used for estate tax planning and Medicaid planning.  Still others are used to pass financial assets to beneficiaries who might not be able to use them well or by themselves, such as with a disabled beneficiary, a beneficiary who wastes money or has creditors, or perhaps is struggling with addiction.  Many parents leave assets to their children in trusts so that the assets are excluded from their child’s potential divorce.  Trusts can even be used for your pets!  We have many blog posts on different reasons to use a trust, and here are a few:  https://www.galliganmanning.com/special-estate-planning-considerations-for-a-blended-family/ (blended families)  https://www.galliganmanning.com/do-you-need-a-pet-trust-in-your-estate-plan/ (pets) https://www.galliganmanning.com/some-common-estate-planning-mistakes-best-avoided/.    

If you are considering using a trust as part of your estate planning, you have to consider whether it will be revocable or irrevocable.  I’ll briefly describe both varieties.

Revocable Trusts are trusts that can be changed. They are often called Living Trusts.  This form of trust is typically used to avoid probate because assets properly owned or directed to the trust will not be probate assets.  Because of its flexibility, you can change beneficiaries, terminate it, or leave it as is. You have options, and it can change with you as your needs, wishes and plan change over time.  Once you die, the revocable trust becomes irrevocable and distributions and assets shift to the beneficiaries in the manner you chose. 

A revocable trust avoids probate for the assets it directs, but will be counted as part of your “estate” for estate tax purposes. They are includable in your estate, because you maintain control over them during your lifetime.  Under current law, very few people have an estate large enough to pay federal estate taxes, so having assets as part of your “estate” for estate tax purposes is actually a good thing.

Revocable Trusts are also used to help manage assets as you age, help you maintain control of assets if you don’t believe the trustees are ready to manage the funds, or to appoint other trustees in case you can no longer manage the assets yourself.

Irrevocable Trusts are called irrevocable because in theory you cannot change or revoke them.  However, most states have laws which permit revocation or change of irrevocable trusts in certain circumstances.  But, you should be careful about irrevocable trusts if you expect a need to change it in the future.

If estate taxes are a concern, it’s likely you’ll consider this type of trust. The assets are given to the trust, thus removing them from your taxable estate.  Irrevocable trusts of this type are less common than revocable trusts, but still can be a powerful weapon in your estate planning arsenal. 

These are just two of many different types of trusts. There are trusts set up for distributions to pay college expenses, providing for disabled individuals to preserve government benefits, charitable funds for philanthropic purposes, planning for pets after you are gone, leaving assets to a second spouse or children in a blended family and more.

Your estate planning attorney will be able to identify which types are most appropriate for your situation.  Here’s how to prepare for your meeting with an estate planning attorney when considering a trust:

Why do you want the Trust? Consider your goal.  Is it to avoid probate?  Is it for tax planning?  Is it because you know a beneficiary shouldn’t receive the assets but you still want to provide for them?

List beneficiaries. Include primary beneficiaries and have a plan for what happens when the primary beneficiary is deceased.

Map out the specifics. Who do you want to receive the assets? How much do you want to leave them? Why shouldn’t receive the assets immediately?  You should be as detailed as possible.

Choose a trustee. You’ll need to name someone who will respect your wishes, who understands your financial situation and who will be able to stand up to any beneficiaries who might not like how you’ve structured your plan. It can be a professional trustee as well.

Don’t forget to fund the it! This last step is very important. The trust does no good if it is not properly funded. You should speak with your estate planning attorney about how to fund the trust based upon the plan you selected.

Creating a trust can be a complex task. However, with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, this strategy can yield a lifetime of benefits for you and your loved ones.

Reference: The Street (July 22, 2019) “How to Set Up a Trust Fund: What You Need to Know”

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