Choosing a Trustee for Your Special Needs Trust: Part Three

In Part One and Part Two of Choosing a Trustee for Your Special Needs Trust, I described the numerous duties of  a Special Needs trustee and the different factors that must be considered in choosing the trustee.  In this final post, I offer some suggestions as to how to make that choice in order to fully accomplish the goals you had in establishing the trust to take care of your special needs child both financially and emotionally.

One helpful suggestion is to divide the duties of the trustee into three major categories: financial, personal and administrative.  Think about if the trustee you plan to choose is capable of managing all three of these areas successfully.  If not, there are several strategies a good estate planner can use in order to ensure your child’s SNT is successfully implemented.

Selecting the Right Trustee for Your Special Needs Trust

Family Members

One possible choice of trustee for the Supplemental Needs Trust is a family member.  You may  be thinking of choosing one of your child’s siblings or one of your own.  It is, after all, comforting to know that the disabled individual will always have someone loving looking after him/her.

The biggest problem with placing a sibling (or any other family member) in position as trustee of the disabled person’s financial affairs is the burden it places on both the sibling and the relationship the sibling has with the disabled family member.  One of the most difficult provisions of administering an SNT for a beneficiary who needs to keep their eligibility for government benefits is that for every dollar over $20 the beneficiary receives in cash, the SSI recipient will receive one dollar less.  Should the cash outlay exceed the SSI, the beneficiary is in danger of losing all public benefits.  When a sibling or other family member must be the person to have to deny his brother/sister’s request, this places everyone involved in an awkward and uncomfortable position.

Additionally, many family members will not understand all the different rules that must be followed, and will have to employ financial advisors to help manage the SNT.

Corporate Trustees

Another possibility is a corporate trustee.  In New York, a bank or brokerage house can serve that purpose.  Many clients will balk at this idea, believing a bank to be cold and disinterested.  Many financial institutions have special departments to serve the needs of disabled beneficiaries. If you would like to learn more about corporate trustees that handle Special Needs Trusts, please contact me for more information.

One valid concern about a corporate trustee is monitoring and oversight.  A second is concern over the rapid mergers and recent dissolution of even the largest players in the financial services industry.

Also, many corporate trustees will not accept smaller accounts and take a percentage off the top for administrative services.

Co-Trustees and The Trust Protector

In order to handle all aspects of managing an SNT, you can choose co-trustees, wherein a family member and the corporate trustee manage the trust together.  The SNT should establish what happens in case of a conflict between a corporate and a family member trustee.

Another solution is to name a trust protector in the Special Needs Trust to monitor the corporate trustee.  That person might be a family member, accountant, or a member of a local chapter of NAMI or ARC.  This relieves the family member of the many duties associated with properly administering and investing the assets in the SNT, but allows for replacing the corporate trustee should the corporate trustee be neglecting the trust, investing improperly or merging its existence with another institution that might not meet the needs of the beneficiary.  This also gives the family member an “out” so that they are not seen as the “bad guy” to the disabled beneficiary.

T-E-A-M spells Trustee

The best solution, if practical financially, is to have a team in place.  This team could consist of investment managers, family members, care or case managers, long-term caregivers and most importantly the beneficiary themselves.  Part of the goal, if possible, is to promote independence for the beneficiary and while any direct management of the SNT might cause the beneficiary to lose government benefits, the beneficiary should, if able, certainly be included in the decision making process.

Choosing a Trustee for Your Special Needs Trust: Part Two

In Part One of Choosing a Trustee for Your Special Needs Trust, I discussed all the different responsibilities and jobs a trustee must fulfill to properly administer the trust.  It is also important to really assess both the current and potential future needs of your child.

Considerations to Use in Choosing a Trustee

There are a variety of factors that must be weighed and balanced in order to make the best choice possible to manage the Supplemental Needs Trust’s assets while at the same time contribute to the well-being of your special needs child.

  • What is the nature of the disability?
  • How old is the trust beneficiary?
  • Where does the disabled person currently live, and where might that person live in the future?
  • What government benefits is the child with special needs now receiving and what might they become eligible to receive?
  • What is the life expectancy of the disabled person?
  • What is the source of funding of the Special Needs Trust?
  • What skills does the potential trustee have?
  • Are there sufficient funds for the  trustee to be able to hire competent advisers such as accountants, attorneys and caregivers?
  • How available is the trustee to manage both the financial and emotional needs of the special needs child?
  • Are family members a resource to manage either the trust or a trustee?
  • Are non-family members available such as a teacher, family religious leader, an attorney or accountant?  Perhaps you or your child belong to a national organization such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or the Arc (ARC)?
  • Does the disabled person have a case manager provided by the state, or a care manager provided privately?

Solutions

In Part Three of Choosing a Trustee for Your Special Needs Trust I will offer a number of different solutions to the problem of finding a trustee to administer your trust who meets the qualifications and considerations that are important to both you and your special needs child.

Is Funding a Special Needs Trust a Guessing Game?

How do parents of children with special needs, whether that child is 5 or 35, predict just how much money their disabled child will need for their future comfort?  There are many variables to consider, including:  life expectancy; the rate of inflation; investment return; the amount of benefits the government will provide decades from now (although it is fairly safe to assume recipients of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) will never receive enough cash benefits to rise above the poverty level).

Luckily, special needs financial calculators are available free of charge to help you and your estate planning attorney or financial planner determine the cost of providing your child with lifelong support.  Just click on one of the following links to start the process:

Taking the Guesswork out of Funding a Supplemental Needs Trust

Step One:  Assess your child’s future capabilities.  This is more difficult if your child is still young.  Speak to your child’s medical professionals and ask for an evaluation of your child’s prospects, both short- and long-term.  If your child is already an adult, you will already have a better understanding of what his or her needs are now and might be in the future.

Step Two:  Take an inventory of what you already own.  Add life insurance policies, if any.

Step Three:  Identify current and future living expenses and future income sources for your special needs child.  Your disabled child may be able to earn income and contribute financially.  Consider the government benefits and support your child is already receiving or might receive in the future.  If your child is currently living with you, will that child be eligible for subsidized housing?  Will there be gifts and inheritances from other family members?

Step Four:  Place a dollar value on anticipated income and expenses. The online calculators use broad categories such as housing, transportation, medical care, education, or you can use more detailed lists within each category.

Step Five:   Calculate!  Using assumptions about the rate of inflation and your investment returns, you should now have a target to help you plan for your child’s future needs.

Working Towards Your Goal

Although many of these questions are very difficult for parents to consider, and very difficult to answer, beginning the process of planning for the future security of your loved ones will make you feel more secure now.

As always, if you have any questions about this post, please feel free to either call or contact me through  the contact or comments form.

How Life Insurance Can Help Your Special Needs Child

Many parents are concerned about how they can fund a supplemental needs trust, especially in these rough economic times.  Parents are also concerned about how their other children will feel if they divide their estate assets unevenly, providing more for their siblings with disabilities.  These siblings might have even more resentment if they end up being financially responsible after you are no longer able to supplement your special needs child’s benefits.  Children with autism have a normal life span and could easily need financial assistance until they are well into their 80s!  Additionally, they may need to pay for care that you are no longer able to provide, such as a care manager or help with cleaning and shopping.

Parents with a disabled child should consider buying life insurance to wholly or partially fund the special needs trust.  There are several types of insurance to consider.  Term life is the least expensive option, but the premiums increase each year as the insured (that’s you) gets older.  Since these policies need to be renewed, at some point these policies are typically dropped due to the steep increases in premiums as you age or experience health issues.  There are several types of permanent life insurance including whole and universal.  The least expensive option is known as survivorship or second-to-die life insurance.  This term policy is payable only upon the death of the second insured, when it is most needed.  It is best to consult a life insurance agent with expertise in this area.

If you have any questions about this post,  please feel free to call or drop me a line on either the comment or contact form.

Providing for the Future of Your Special Needs Child

For many years, we have provided for our loved ones with special needs and serious disabilities. We have taken them to occupational/physical/speech therapists. Found special camps. Had endless meetings with our school districts. Driven countless hours. Shopped with love for just the right gift to bring a smile. Bought a special outfit. In general, we have supplemented basic government benefits to enable our loved ones to enjoy a better quality of life. Who will continue to provide these things after you are unable to act as the primary caregiver? How do you make your wishes known? How do you ensure your loved ones get the same special services that you provided during your lifetime?

Although the truth is that no one will give our children the same love and attention that we have, by setting up a Special Needs Trust (sometimes called a Supplemental Needs Trust), you can ensure that many of those extras can be provided without disqualifying your loved ones from their government benefits such as SSI, Medicaid and food stamps.

Besides basic financial care, these government benefits may also make a disabled person eligible for local community services such as supported housing. These benefits help your loved ones live independently and help them care for him or herself.

It is important to work closely with a lawyer who understands all aspects of creating and administering Special and Supplemental Needs Trusts, and who is willing to spend the time with you to establish the appropriate planning tools to meet your family’s unique needs.

Planning for the Future of Your Special Needs Child

If you are the parent of a child with special needs as I am, you know that one of our greatest fears is how our children will be taken care of when we are no longer able to do so ourselves. Even worse, our fear only becomes greater as our children get older and we do too.

The range of disabilities which may impair our children and adults to the point where they are unable to support themselves is vast, and includes both physical and mental impairments. These individuals, our disabled children, may need to depend on government benefits to provide for their financial needs, but frequently end up living below the poverty level.

Worse, entitlement to government benefits often depends on a means test. To receive SSI and Medicaid, disabled people must limit their income and assets. Any financial assistance given to our children for food and shelter will reduce even these limited financial benefits.

Fortunately, there is a way parents and grandparents can grant some relief and provide stability and security to our children without jeopardizing these government benefits that are so important for our children, through the creation and use of Supplemental and Special Needs Trusts.