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Estate Planning Options for Individuals with Special Needs Children

Estate Planning and Special Needs Children

Special Needs families face unique challenges in estate planning, particularly when it comes to securing their child’s long-term well-being. Government benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid play a vital role in providing necessary support, but strict eligibility requirements necessitate careful planning.

Special Needs Trusts (SNTs) are a cornerstone of estate planning for individuals with disabilities, allowing assets to be set aside for their care without jeopardizing benefits. Legal guardianship and conservatorship may also be necessary as a special needs child reaches adulthood. Working with an estate planning attorney is crucial in navigating the complexities of special needs estate plans, ensuring a comprehensive plan that safeguards your child’s future.

The Role of Special Needs Trusts in Estate Planning

Special Needs Trusts (SNTs) serve as a crucial tool in estate planning for individuals with disabilities. By establishing an SNT, parents can ensure their child’s financial security without jeopardizing vital government benefits. These trusts provide a way to set aside assets for the care of a special needs individual while maintaining their eligibility for programs like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid.

Types of Special Needs Trusts

Individuals with special needs can benefit from Special Needs Trusts (SNTs) to supplement their care without jeopardizing eligibility for government benefits. Here’s a breakdown of the primary types:

  • Third-Party SNTs: These trusts are funded by someone other than the beneficiary, typically parents, grandparents, or other loved ones. Assets within the trust are managed by a designated trustee to provide for the beneficiary’s needs. Importantly, upon the beneficiary’s passing, remaining assets are not subject to Medicaid payback and can be distributed to other designated heirs.
  • First-Party SNTs:  Primarily funded by the beneficiary’s own assets (e.g., from settlements, lawsuits, or inheritances), these trusts have stricter requirements. They must include a Medicaid payback provision, ensuring that Medicaid is reimbursed for covered expenses from any remaining funds after the beneficiary’s passing. Additionally, first-party SNTs generally need to be established before the beneficiary turns 65.
  • Pooled Special Needs Trusts: This type of SNT is managed by non-profit organizations. They offer flexibility by allowing beneficiaries to have their own sub-accounts within a larger pooled trust.

Establishment and Funding

Third-party SNTs are valuable estate planning tools for individuals with disabilities. Parents and loved ones can provide for long-term care by establishing this type of trust.  A designated trustee manages the assets and makes distributions to cover the beneficiary’s supplemental needs – those that enhance the quality of life beyond the basics provided by government benefits.

Pros and Cons

Establishing a Special Needs Trust offers advantages and important considerations. Pros include safeguarding the beneficiary’s government benefits, providing financial security, and ensuring long-term care. Conversely, the process can involve administrative complexities, legal fees, and careful planning regarding how funds can be used.

The Source of Funds

Special Needs Trusts (both third-party and first-party) can be funded from various sources. These may include assets contributed by family members, legal settlements, inheritances, or even the beneficiary’s own funds. The goal is to provide ongoing care and support while protecting eligibility for government programs.

Specific Use Considerations

Special Needs Trusts have guidelines on how funds can be used. They can cover a wide range of expenses like medical costs, housing, personal needs, specialized therapies, or adapted equipment. It’s important to note, that trust funds cannot directly replace essentials like food or shelter covered by benefits.  Instead, they’re meant to enhance the beneficiary’s quality of life, requiring careful management.

The Mechanics of a Special Needs Trust

Understanding how a Special Needs Trust functions is crucial for families of individuals with special needs. These trusts protect the beneficiary’s eligibility for government assistance while providing for needs that go beyond the basic necessities. A designated trustee manages trust assets and makes distributions on behalf of the beneficiary according to the carefully designed trust guidelines.

Consulting with a specialized attorney experienced in special needs estate planning is essential.  They will help you tailor the trust to your loved one’s individual circumstances.

ABLE Accounts

All parents want to secure their children’s future, and this is especially important when planning for a child with special needs. ABLE accounts offer a valuable way to save for qualified disability expenses in a tax-advantaged way, similar to 529 college savings plans.

Contributions to ABLE accounts grow tax-free, and distributions won’t affect benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid as long as the account balance stays below $100,000.  This provides significant advantages for families who want to financially support their loved ones with disabilities without jeopardizing their eligibility for essential government programs.

It’s important to understand the guidelines of ABLE accounts. There are annual contribution limits (which vary by state) and a lifetime limit. Additionally, the beneficiary must have a disability that began before age 26 to be eligible. For individuals who work, there may be the possibility to contribute even more beyond the annual limit, based on their income.

ABLE accounts can be used for a wide range of qualified expenses, including:

  • Education
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Healthcare
  • Employment Training and Support
  • Assistive Technology
  • Personal Support Services
  • Other Disability-Related Expenses

By strategically using an ABLE account, families can provide greater financial security and independence for their loved ones with disabilities. 

Contact Our Knowledgeable and Compassionate Kentucky Estate Planning Attorneys

Estate planning for special needs children requires a lot of forethought and attention to various tools (such as special needs trusts) that can help families prepare for the future. At John Ruby & Associates, we work closely with families who are in this situation to help them put together an estate plan that fully addresses their needs and accomplishes their goals. 

For skilled guidance with all types of estate planning needs in Kentucky, call us today at 502-373-8044 or message us online. We look forward to serving you!