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Supplemental Needs or Special Needs Trust?

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

When you have a loved one with special needs or a disability, as they are near 18 years old things start to get a little scary. As if there haven't been enough scary things thus far. Well, at 18 they are legally an adult and unless you have guardianship set up, it becomes very difficult to help them. Planning for their long-term financial future becomes more and more important.

My son has been "transitioning" over the last couple of years and it seems like each new phase brings new terminology which means more research. Words like guardianship, medical assistance, trusts, social security, voc rehab, and then let's not even get into all the acronyms (ILS, DD), it just gets overwhelming. This article is only very basic about Supplemental Needs Trust or Special Needs Trusts. I'm working on articles about the rest of the process we have been through.

Both a Supplemental Needs Trust and a Special Needs Trust:

  • are financial ways to help someone with a disability (in this case, the disability is autism);

  • need to be set up by an attorney, preferably someone who specializes in special needs;

  • do not have a limit to the amount of money in the account;

  • do not count towards the person's asset limits for any assistance they are getting.

So what's the difference?

Supplemental Needs Trust is established and funded by anyone except the disabled person. Upon passing, the funds are distributed to a named individual.

Special Needs Trust is funded by the disabled person and any leftover monies upon death are returned to Medical Assistance.

Being that each family is different, I highly recommend signing up for any classes regarding special needs planning, estate planning, wills/trusts, social security, or financial help. I take all my classes at Pacer Center or Fraser. I always pick up brochures and handouts at all the autism walks and resource fairs we attend.

In our instance, I do not have a trust set up as of writing this. He does not have any assets and he is not named as a beneficiary in any family wills. The attorney that handled our guardianship also handles wills and trusts and has answered some general questions for me.

This has been a very brief overview just because there are many specifics (like what each fund can pay for) that I did not touch on. I am not an expert or an attorney. Also, each state has different estate planning laws. Your state bar association or local autism resource should have names of attorneys that handle estate planning. Some attorney offices will have the option for a free consultation. Make sure you research and know what you choosing to best suit the needs of your family.

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