Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, August 2, 2019

Can your family benefit from a special needs trust?

If you have a child or another family member with disabilities, you obviously have concerns and questions. How can you help your loved one achieve the greatest quality of life possible? Can you arrange for adequate services? What’s the best way to pay for them? Can you get some financial help?

Fortunately, you are not alone. Your disabled family member may well be eligible for several government programs. But these programs won’t cover everything, so you may want to help close the gaps. Yet, some government benefits impose eligibility restrictions based on the level of assets or resources available to the recipient, which means the financial help you’re willing to provide could backfire – unless you establish a special needs trust.

A special needs trust allows the beneficiary – your family member – to receive government benefits while still receiving funds from the trust. You, as the donor, supply these funds, while a trustee holds and administers them according to your wishes. Generally speaking, the beneficiary can’t use the trust for basic support – food, clothing and shelter – or to receive benefits that can be provided by the government. Instead, the trust can be used to provide specialized therapy, special equipment, recreational outings and other items. 

When considering a special needs trust, you’ll need to explore several issues, but it’s especially important to focus on these two:

• Naming a trustee – You could name a trusted family member or friend as a trustee. This choice works well for many people, but it does have the potential to cause familial conflicts. Another possibility is to name a trust company, which can provide professional management, expertise and continuity of administration. You can even name an individual and a trust company as trustees, combining the personal touch of a family member with the technical and administrative skills of a professional trustee.

• Funding the trust – You can fund the trust during your lifetime or have it activated upon your passing. You don’t have to be the sole donor, either – you can structure the trust so other family members can contribute to it. And a trust can be funded with many types of assets – securities (stocks and bonds), IRA proceeds, insurance death benefits and more.

While it’s important you understand the fundamentals of a special needs trust, it’s not a do-it-yourself endeavor. In fact, creating this trust can be complex. For one thing, there are a few different types of special needs trust, so you’ll need to determine which is right for your needs. Also, it’s important to be familiar with the requirements of various federal, state and local benefit programs for people with disabilities. For these and other reasons, it’s essential to work with a local estate-planning professional who knows the regulations in your area. You may also need to bring in your financial professional, who can help with the funding elements of a special needs trust, and who can possibly recommend a trust company, if you choose to use one.

You’ll do anything you can to make life better for a disabled child or family member – and one tool you have at your disposal is a special needs trust. Consider looking into one soon.