The Three Flavors of Special Needs Trusts: #1 Third-Party Trusts
Estate Planning law firm Baron Law Cleveland offers the following part 1 of a three part series of explaining the difference trusts available for those who have loved ones with Special Needs. Dan Baron of Baron Law can advise what is best trust for your situation as the trusts are as individual as your loved one.
According to recent statistics for the National Organization on Disability, nearly 1/5 of all Americans, almost 54 million, have a physical, sensory, or intellectual disability. Every one of those 54 million have parents, siblings, family members, and loved ones who want to ensure they are comfortable and provided for. As with many things with special needs persons, the solution for providing for them isn’t straightforward or simple. This is where special needs trusts often play a pivotal role in providing support and estate planning peace of mind.
Special Needs Trusts: A Primer
Special Needs Trusts, as their name suggests, are trusts. As trusts, they hold the common characteristics and features shared by all trusts. A trust, to put it simply, is a private agreement that allows a third party, a trustee, to manage the assets that are placed inside the trust for the benefit of trust beneficiaries. There are innumerable types of trusts, each with own its respective legal conventions and purposes. A critical aspect of trusts is that the assets housed within them usually aren’t counted as a part of the trust creator’s taxable estate. Thus, when the owner of the trust creates the trust and properly funds it, the assets go from the owner’s taxable estate to the trust. Afterwards, when the owner dies, the assets are not in the owner’s estate and subject to probate.
The distinguishing aspect and purpose of special needs trusts, sometimes referred as supplemental needs trusts, is that resources placed within these trusts can be managed for the benefit of a person with special needs but still allow them to qualify for public benefits like supplemental security income and Medicaid. This allows grantors, those who create the trust, usually in this instance parents of someone with special needs, to provide much need stable and monetary support while still allowing often indispensable social assistance programs for their children, even long after the parents pass. Third-party trusts seek to supplement income from assistance programs not to replace it.
Third-Party Special Needs Trusts
In general, there are three types of special needs trusts: Third-party trusts, self-settled trusts, and pooled trusts. Of focus here is third-party special needs trusts. The name denotes the defining characteristic of this trust, that a third-party set up a trust and funded the trust. This is also its most critical aspect because the funds and/or assets in the trust never belonged to the beneficiary with special needs, the government is not entailed to reimbursement for Medicaid payments made to the beneficiary nor are these assets taken into account when calculatng either initial or continued eligibility for government assistance programs for the special needs person.
These trusts are usually set up as a part of a comprehensive estate plan that initially provides a place to house gifts given by family members during their life to someone with special needs and later to also house inheritance from these same family members when they pass. Third-party special needs trusts are often denoted as beneficiaries on life insurance polices or certain retirements accounts. Further, these trusts can also own real estate or investments in the name of the trust but for the ultimate benefit of the person with special needs.
Advantages of Third-Party Special Needs Trusts
A big advantage of third-party special needs trusts is that, while the grantor is living, funds in the trust usually generate income tax for the grantor, not for the special needs beneficiary. This shift in taxation is dependent on proper drafting which is why experienced counsel is always recommended with special needs trusts. This tax shift avoids the hassle and stress of having to file income tax returns for an otherwise non-taxable special needs beneficiary and also having to explain the income to the Social Security Administration or other interested government entity.
Additionally, because it a trust, ultimately what happens after the special needs beneficiary is controlled by the grantor, you. Thus, the grantor always retains control and upon the special needs beneficiary’s death, the assets in the trust pass according to the grantor’s express wishes, even longer after death, and usually to the grantor’s surviving family member or other charitable institutions. This means the special needs person is always provided for, and far-above those people solely dependent on government assistance, and the money, at the end, will continue to do good for either your family or the world at large.