Ask Jaleh: Who Controls the Money In A Special Needs Trust?



Video Summary


Who controls the money in a supplemental or special needs trust?


Perhaps the most important consideration for an SNT is the selection of a trustee. The trustee of the special needs trust is critical to the successful achievement of the goals and objectives of the special needs trust.


First, the trustee should never be the beneficiary of the special needs trust, or the beneficiary spouse, because of the control and the deeming factors. The trustee should be someone who is experienced with financial matters, or who is capable of retaining the appropriate financial expertise to assist in the management of the assets in the special needs trust.


The trustee must have the time and be willing to exert the effort to become acquainted with and maintain current knowledge of the needs of the beneficiary. And, very importantly, the requirements of the public benefits programs for which the beneficiary of the special needs trust is eligible.


Often, especially with a supplemental needs trust, it is advisable to name co-trustees. One co-trustee could be a corporate trustee, and the other could be a family member or close friend who has frequent contact with the beneficiary of the special needs trust.


Whether co-trustees, a single corporate trustee, one or more individuals are appointed as trustee, consideration should be given to the use of a care manager. The special needs trust can provide that a care manager be hired by the trustee of the special needs trust, to provide the constant contact with the beneficiary necessary to become aware of the beneficiary's personal needs. And then they can communicate that information regularly to the trustee.


The grantor of the special needs trust can also use a memorandum of instruction, or other similar type of document, to communicate the various personal information about the beneficiary of the special needs trust. Such as the beneficiary's favorite color, favorite food, likes, dislikes, medications, and other important information regarding the beneficiary.


The special needs trust should include terms that prohibit the distribution of any trust asset for anything provided by the public benefits programs for which the beneficiary of the special needs trust may be qualified. If the trustee conscientiously complies with those provisions, the special needs trust assets will not be deemed to be owned by the beneficiary of the special needs trust, and will be available to use in the trustee's discretion for other needs of the beneficiary of the trust.


Another common provision for a supplemental needs trust is allowing the trustee to make payments that could possibly disqualify the beneficiary of the trust for some government benefits, if the trustee decides that it is in the best interest of the beneficiary. For example, the trustee may use the special needs trust funds to purchase a house on behalf of the beneficiary. This would cause a reduction in the beneficiary's social security income stipend, because it is considered a shelter expenditure. However, if the beneficiary of the special needs trust has housing needs that exceed the government benefits, it is in the beneficiary's best interest to use the trust funds for better housing.


Special needs trusts are commonly used to provide the beneficiary with specially equipped vehicles, concert tickets, transportation tickets, dental work – these things are not covered by Medicaid or other public benefits programs. They could also be considered to be used for things such as the theater, performing arts admission tickets, computers, and other electronic devices such as televisions, iPads, and anything that would be necessary to the benefit of the beneficiary of the special needs trust.


With a third party special needs trust, the grantor has the right to designate, in the special needs trust document, who will be the beneficiaries of the trust upon the death of the primary beneficiary.


In conclusion, special needs trusts, whether third party or self-settled, are valuable tools for beneficiaries who are disabled or have other special needs.


If you're interested in setting up a special needs trust, please contact me at Waller and Mitchell, at 727-847-2288.