Special Needs Trust: Does My Child Need One?

By Laura Croft, Esq.

Mar 18
Special Needs Estate Planning

Is a Special Needs Trust really something that my child needs? . . . Well, if you have read this far, then you most likely have some concern that your beloved child may be unable to fully support himself/herself when they become an adult and may require assistance from public benefits programs such as Medi-Cal and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). While such programs may be essential to ensuring your child's very basic needs for food, shelter, and medical care, they actually provide nothing beyond the most basic and minimal needs.

As parents, our concern over preserving government benefits, is really just scratching the service and begs the questions of who will check on my child on a weekly, or maybe on a daily basis; who will make sure he feels loved and understood; how will she get around; will he have quality social interactions; or who will accompany him to church or to the aquarium?

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These are hard questions and if you have not thought or planned for them, you are not alone. On February 22, 2018, Disability Scoop reported: "Nearly 400 parents of children ages 3 to 68 responded to a national survey on what steps they’ve taken to ensure

future care for them. Only 3.6 percent of parents had completed a full list of 11 tasks that researchers asked about including establishing legal guardianship, power of attorney and securing a residential placement. While 32 percent had done a moderate amount of preparation, 12 percent had taken no action, the survey showed."

Creating a Special Needs Trust is one of many critical steps for parents to take, and it appears to be a good starting point, as "locating a knowledgeable attorney was the most commonly taken step" reported by parents in the DisabilityScoop survey, "with 58 percent of parents reporting doing so." That's a great start because a properly drafted and managed Special Needs Trust will provide a source of funds to meet your child's needs without disqualifying the beneficiary from needs-based public benefits. But, quite often a Special Needs Trust does that, and just that. Comprehensive special needs planning can do so much more by incorporating provisions that actually create a customized system of advocacy and care that will provide structure, safety, and stability for our children as they grow older.

Most third-party special needs trusts are tucked away as sub-trusts in the parents' estate plan and really do not address the most critical questions that parents have. They are a bandaid satisfying an important legal goal but only superficially addressing a parent's deepest concerns. A Special Needs Trust should provide for your child's “special needs,” - the goods and services beyond what is provided by government benefits, including paying for travel to family activities, enabling the beneficiary to engage in social activities, supplement Medi-Cal’s minimal health care, provide essential therapies, dental care, and support the beneficiary’s education or vocational training. It can also set forth your intentions and wishes for your child and put in place a team, incorporating a Trustee, a Trust Advisory Committee, Advocates, and a Trust Protector.

Make sure your child's Special Needs Trust is a tool to provide lifelong advocacy, accountability and the best quality of life for your child. You can begin today by calling our office to schedule a Family Wealth Planning and Special Needs Planning Session. Make the most empowered and informed decisions for yourself and the family members you love, at 650-787-4142. Or, schedule online.

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About the Author

I have five children, two of my children have special needs and one is my step-daughter. On a deep level, I understand how every family has special gifts, dreams, fears and goals and I am deeply committed to be your trusted advisor who helps you make the very best personal, financial, and legal decisions for your family throughout your lifetime.