Special Needs Trust: A Critical Resource
A special needs trust is a trust that can supplement the needs of a special needs beneficiary while allowing the beneficiary to maintain their governmental benefits, including Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security and Medicaid. With medical advancements, persons with disabilities are living longer and public benefits are often necessary, yet there is no guarantee that public benefits will provide adequate resources over the disabled person’s lifetime, or that existing public agencies will continue to provide acceptable services and advocacy over a disabled person’s lifetime.
If the special needs trust is established by you or someone other than the disabled person and the disabled person does not have the legal right to demand trust assets, the trust is not considered a “countable resource” for purposes of government benefits. Therefore, the special needs trust beneficiary can continue to receive benefits even though they are a trust beneficiary. The trust will give the trustee the discretion to make distributions to the beneficiary to the extent possible without reducing benefits, and trust assets are available if the beneficiary no longer qualifies for governmental assistance or that assistance is no longer available.
If the trust is established on the beneficiary’s behalf pursuant to court order, for example, as part of a personal injury settlement, the trust will not impact the beneficiary’s eligibility, but it may need to include a “payback” provision that reimburses the state for its assistance before trust assets pass to the trust’s other beneficiaries.
Common savings vehicles for children, like Uniform Transfer to Minor Acts (UTMA) accounts, typical trusts, or designating a retirement plan, insurance policy or annuity directly to an SSI or Medicaid recipient will cause a reduction or elimination of public benefits. Recognizing this, some parents make the difficult decision to disinherit their special needs children, but this severe action is unnecessary.