Southeastern Massachusetts Special Needs Planning Attorney

mother embracing young special needs daughter

Offices in Hyannis, Easton & New Bedford

If you are caring for a child or young adult with a disability, you likely have concerns about their future when you are no longer around to provide for them. Individuals with special needs often receive public benefits such as Social Security disability benefits and Medicaid (MassHealth), however, receiving an inheritance could jeopardize their benefit status. With the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, you can set up a special needs trust to provide for the ongoing care of your loved one.

Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. works with families in Southeastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod and the Islands to help them provide for loved ones with special needs. By establishing a special needs trust you can preserve your loved one’s eligibility for public benefits while enhancing their well-being. When you consult our estate planning attorneys, you will have peace of mind knowing that your loved one will continue to be well-cared for when you can no longer do so. 

How does a special needs trust work?

A special needs trust (SNT) is designed to hold assets for an individual with a physical or mental disability or chronic illness so that the trust assets are not counted as resources for purposes of obtaining government benefits. Assets that can be held in a special needs trust include:

  • A home — A primary residence does not disqualify a loved one from receiving public benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), however, there is a limit to the property value if the beneficiary only receives Medicaid
  • A motor vehicle — A special needs trust beneficiary is allowed to own one motor vehicle of any value and still receive SSI
  • Home furnishings and personal effects — Because the definition of “personal effects” is unlimited, any possessions the beneficiary retains in the home are not counted as an asset for purposes of benefit eligibility
  • Property essential for self-support — This refers to property intended to be used for  work, either as an employee or for running a business, however, the value of these items is limited
  • Assets to attain an occupational goal — Special needs individuals who receive SSI can use certain assets under the SSI PASS Program to assist with attaining an occupational goal, such as paying for college, vocational training, or starting a business
  • Burial and life insurance policies — Cash surrender values less than $1,500 and burial insurance policies of any value

Because a properly structured SNT is irrevocable, it cannot be changed or modified during the grantor’s (the person making the trust) lifetime. In addition, the trust document must specify that the assets are not intended to provide basic levels of support and will only be used for permissible supplemental benefits and services, such as:

  • Personal care attendants
  • Educational and recreational activities
  • Out-of-pocket medical and dental expenses
  • Physical rehabilitation
  • Medications not covered by benefits
  • Insurance
  • Special dietary needs
  • Vacations

Types of Special Needs Trusts

The most common type of special needs trust is a third-party trust in which the assets are not owned by the beneficiary, but another person, typically a parent. The designated trustee is tasked with managing the assets and carrying out the terms of the trust, which is why this individual must be reliable and capable. It is important to note that a trustee is considered a fiduciary and can be held liable for any mistakes or misconduct. 

Another type of special needs trust is a first-party trust. This form of SNT is typically established when a disabled individual receives money through a legal settlement, retirement funds, life insurance proceeds or an inheritance. The trust will hold these assets in order to preserve the special needs person’s eligibility for benefits. 

Contact our Southeastern Massachusetts Special Needs Planning Attorney

At Surprenant & Beneski, P.C., we are keenly aware that planning for a loved one with special needs can be challenging. Our legal team will provide you with informed representation and caring, personal service. We will take the time to get to know you and understand the challenges facing your loved one. 

Well-versed in the rules governing special needs trusts and the qualifications for obtaining a wide variety of public benefits, we can help to establish a special needs trust as part of a comprehensive estate planning strategy. Additionally, we will work with you to ensure that the special needs trust is funded, which basically entails properly transferring property into the trust. Above all, we are committed to protecting your interests and the welfare of your loved one. Please contact our office today to speak with our estate planning attorneys.