Choosing a trustee to manage your child’s Special or Supplemental Needs Trust is one of the most difficult decisions you will have to make. That decision alone often stops parents from taking the next step of setting up an appointment with an attorney who has expertise with drafting Special Needs Trusts.
After all, how can we, as parents, choose who should be responsible for managing both your disabled child’s money and also be in charge of their welfare for what could arguably be the next 60 or 70 or 80 years? I certainly struggled with this for years. Both my parents were only children, as is my daughter and her father, and my brother has no children. That translates into no siblings, cousins, aunts or uncles. I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about the future, and who will be left to care for and about my daughter after I die. And while I plan on living for a long time, my hope and expectation is that my child will live many years past my life expectancy.
We automatically look to family members, but I hope to show you that this is not necessarily the best idea or the most practical when choosing a trustee.
The Many Hats a Special Needs Trustee Must Wear
The trustee who administers your child’s Special Needs Trust has many responsibilities:
- Fiduciary: Your trustee must dispense funds to the beneficiary in accordance with the provisions in the Supplemental Needs Trust. That trustee must also invest the trust’s assets wisely in accordance with a number of laws including the Prudent Investor Act. The Trustee must be able to handle tax matters, to keep good accounts and understand the duties of loyalty and care.
- Government benefit issues: In addition to the fiduciary responsibility every trust mandates, the trustee of a Special or Supplemental Needs Trust must also have a complete understanding of the rules that govern Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Medicare and Medicaid. The trustee may need to understand Section 8 entitlements and rules of the Office of Mental Health (OMH) and the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD).
- Meeting the needs of your disabled loved one: The trustee must be able to understand and respond to the needs of your child. The trustee must be sensitive to your child’s needs and also have an understanding of the special services that are available to support, encourage independence if possible and improve the quality of the life of your child with special needs.
- Standing in your place: The trustee can never replace you, but should genuinely care for your child. For example, if your child should need hospitalization or institutionalization,will there be someone who will visit and ensure your child is not being neglected or abused in any way? If your child begins to use drugs, or stops taking prescription medication, or going to therapy, or any of a number of signs we as parents know are signs of deterioration, will your trustee also know to watch for these?
- Immortality: Your trustee must be able to manage the trust for as long as your child needs care.
Clearly, there are many things to think about. In Part Two of Choosing a Trustee for Your Special Needs Trust, we will examine some of the considerations used to make this extremely important decision.