Special Needs Trusts

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.

Helping You and Your Loved Ones Plan for the Future

Why Do I Need a Family Trust as Part of My Estate Planning?


At Baron law, we help you and your loved ones plan for the future. We provide legal advice in estate planning, real estate, business law, divorce, and landlord/ tenant law. One of the most important ways that we help you plan for the future is with family trusts.

What is a Family Trust?

A family trust is a contract or a set of instructions that you’re telling the world that you want to have followed after you’ve passed.

Many people think that a trust and a will are the same thing. However, a trust is different from a will. A will is also a set of instructions, but a will is a defined distribution, whereas with a trust you still have control even after you’ve passed many years down the road.

Why are Family Trusts Used?When are family trusts used?

Family trusts are used to avoid probate and help save on taxes. The family exemption these days is 10 million dollars or more.

Although, taxes are not as important as they were before it is important to keep in mind that that federal exemption changes all the time. Ten years ago, it was only 1 million. So, it may not be on the radar today, but it certainly could be down the road. This is important because you don’t know when your trust is going to go into effect.

The most common reason for having a family trust is for asset protection. Trusts are about having that shield for your children after you’re gone so that creditors, litigation, or a divorce, those things can’t attach interest to your estate after you’ve gone.

Why are Family Trusts Better Than a Will?

Probate:

The number one reason to have a trust is probate. According to the AARP, the average cost of probate is between 5 and 10 percent of the total value of an estate.

For example, if you have a five hundred thousand dollar estate, at a minimum, you’re going to spend twenty-five thousand dollars administering it through probate.

Privacy:

Having a trust is better than a will because of privacy; all of the information is public when going through probate. Someone could go to the courthouse and obtain the information, and now it is easier than ever to get this info because everything is online.

Cost-Efficiency:

Having a trust is more cost- effective than a will. The average time in probate is 18 months and the minimum time in probate is six months. So, you could administer your estate through a trust in a matter of months if you’d like more to carry it on for the legacy and lifetime of your family to ensure that there is asset protection.

Who Should be Implementing a Family Trust Into Their Estate Plan?

Everyone should consider a family trust. However, there are certain criteria for people who we strongly suggest having a family trust.

  • People who have children with spending problems.
  • People who have children who are special needs.
  • People who have children who have any risk of divorce.

How Soon Should I Start to Plan for My Estate?

As soon as possible. The bottom line is that no one knows when they will pass, and it is better to have these safeguards in place to protect your assets and your family, especially if you have children.

If you have not considered a will or a trust or you have any questions about a family trust, contact us at Baron Law today. You can go to our website for a free consultation so you can start planning for the future for yourself and your loved ones.

Hot Powers

“Hot Powers”: What Are They And Should You Give Them?

Who will manage my finances and investments if I am sick or incapacitated? Who will pick what doctor treats me or if a risky but potentially lifesaving procedure should be performed? What if I am put on life sustaining medical support? These are the sorts of questions and issues typically handled by your power of attorney. As they suggest, these are critically important decisions that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Fundamentally, however, these issues can only be handled by your power of attorney if they possess authority, given by you and in writing, to do so. This is why ever since 2012, when Ohio law changed, “hot powers” are a significant topic for you to discuss with your estate planning attorney.

I. Durable Power of Attorney

To understand what hot powers are, you must understand what a power of attorney is. A financial power of attorney, also known as a durable power of attorney, is a legal document that a person can use to appoint someone to act on his or her behalf, i.e. an agency appointment. A power of attorney comes in many forms, but its primary purpose is to grant authority to one or more responsible parties to handle financial or health decisions of a person in the event of illness or other incapacity. Life, and its associated obligations and burdens, tend to continue regardless of one’s physical or mental health. Powers of attorney are protection that ensures affairs are handled and medical wishes are followed even if you are lacking capacity in mind or body.

As stated, powers of attorneys come in many forms. A financial power of attorney, as the name suggests, grants your agent the authority to make financial decisions for you. Managing investments, buying selling land or property, representing you in business negotiations, etc. Healthcare power of attorney works the same way but with healthcare decisions. If you are incapacitated or otherwise can’t decide for yourself, your agent will decide who your doctor is, what treatment you undergo, what medication should be administered, etc.

As always, the terms, powers, and limits for your agents are decided by you in the documents that appoint your agent. If you want to add limits on how long they are appointed, what issues they can or cannot decide, or when exactly their powers manifest, you can do so. Furthermore, you always possess the authority to dismiss them outright or appoint someone new.

Powers of attorney are important to have because surviving spouses or family members will face difficulty and frustration gaining access to things like bank accounts and property that is in your name only. This can be especially damaging within the context of business or professional relations in which the “gears of industry” must keep moving. Alas, if an individual trusted to handle the business if something happens doesn’t possess the authority to so, significant or even fatal business consequences may result. The same goes for medical decisions, often treatment decisions must be made right there and then. Hesitation may mean permanent damage or death to you and if someone doesn’t have express authority to make those decisions, things get confusing, messy, and take a lot longer.

II. “Hot Powers”

So, where do “hot powers” fit in all this. Effective March 22, 2012, Ohio adopted the Uniform Power of Attorney Act, or UPOAA, which was focused on preventing financial elder abuse. Now, powers of attorney must include a statutory language designed to help prevent agents from abusing their power. Put simply, the law now demands power of use more specific drafting and specific denotation “hot powers.”

“Hot powers” grant extraordinary powers to your agent and often these powers can have the effect of altering your estate plan. As such, these powers must be expressly granted per statutory guidelines before they are used by your agent. The most popular of them is the power to gift money or property. “Hot powers” are often used to continue a plan of gifting, sheltering money or property from costs of late life healthcare. Specified gifting “hot powers” can gift anywhere from a limited dollar amount or unlimited, dependent on the scope of the “hot powers” granted and the goals of your estate plan. Further, this power can also be limited to a class of people, such as spouse or children.

Since this new law, third parties such as a financial institution are not required to honor a general power of attorneys. Now, the law asks that a power of attorney include specifically which types of assets and accounts the agent is allowed to control. The spirit of this change is to 1) ensure individuals specifically know and agree to the powers they are giving, and 2) there will no longer be agents running around with “golden tickets” that allow them to do whatever they want to under the sun.

III. Should you give “hot powers”

Like every question in estate planning, whether you should give “hot powers” is circumstantial. The main consideration is who will be given the powers and under what terms. As stated above, “hot powers” are extraordinary powers meaning in the wrong hands they are really screw up your life and a well-crafted estate plan.

Regardless of whether you give these powers or not, it is probably wise to have your Cleveland estate planning attorney look at your powers of attorney if it has been more than five years. The law and your personal circumstances change quite often. Note, a power of attorney created before the 2012 law change will still be valid, however, it may be deficient in expected ways, ways that could hurt you down the line. In sum, the 2012 change means agents are prohibited from performing certain acts unless the power of attorney specifically authorizes them. Because financial power of attorney documents give significant powers to another person, they should be granted only after careful consideration and consultation with experienced legal counsel.