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?”