An Introduction to Special Needs Trusts

Mother and father with their special needs sonFor many families with a special needs child, a special needs trust is one of the most important components of the family’s overall estate plan. A properly designed and implemented special needs trust can provide a number of important benefits.

Maximize quality of life while protecting eligibility for government assistance.

A special needs trust allows you to provide funds that can help improve the quality of life for your special needs loved one without jeopardizing eligibility for necessary government assistance, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid. Funds in the trust can be used for all of the following and more:

  • Medical procedures or therapies not available through government assistance
  • Supplemental nursing home care and private companion services
  • Travel expenses
  • Entertainment expenses such as movies, concerts or electronic equipment
  • Fees for guardians and attorneys
  • Other expenses, services or products not provided by a government assistance program

Lower costs for healthcare services.

Medical providers who have contracts with the state to provide Medicaid services generally deliver those services for much less than beneficiaries paying privately. In situations where the special needs trust must reimburse the state for services provided over the beneficiary’s lifetime (the payback provision), reimbursement will be for this lower cost and avoid any penalties or interest.

Avoid the stress, expense and frustration of guardianship.

A properly designed special needs trust can avoid the need for a guardianship proceeding over property issues because trusts are recognized as a less restrictive means to guardianship. This in turn can protect the beneficiary from having to pay for the ongoing costs and formalities of maintaining a guardianship.

It is important to note that the various government assistance programs have their own set of rules and that these rules can be extremely complicated. An improperly designed special needs trust could jeopardize your loved one’s eligibility for assistance from SSI and Medicaid. In addition, the care requirements of your special needs loved one will change over time, as will the financial situation of your family. For a properly designed special needs trust, you should work with an attorney who has experience in this complicated area of the law.

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