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Special Needs Trusts: How Elder Law Attorneys Help Families Plan for Loved Ones with Disabilities

Understanding Special Needs Trusts

Special needs trusts are crucial legal tools that aim to secure the financial future and quality of life of individuals with disabilities. Crafted with care, they help preserve government benefit eligibility while providing additional financial resources.

Types of Special Needs Trusts

Regarding special needs trusts, one size does not fit all. There are primarily three types: third-party, self-settled, and pooled.

Third-Party Special Needs Trusts

These trusts are financed by someone other than the beneficiary, often parents or relatives. They are usually placed as part of an estate plan, with no payback provision to the state upon the beneficiary’s death.

Self-settled Special Needs Trusts

These trusts, also known as first-party trusts, are funded with the beneficiary’s assets. They might come from personal injury settlements or incorrect inheritances left to the third-party trust.

Pooled Special Needs Trusts

Pooled trusts pool the resources of many beneficiaries, and non-profit organizations manage these. Individual beneficiaries have separate accounts, but funds are combined for investment and management purposes.

The Role of Elder Law Attorneys in Special Needs Trusts

Legal expertise is critical when setting up a special needs trust. Elder law attorneys are professionals who are well-versed in these matters.

The Importance of Legal Expertise

Having someone knowledgeable guides the process is paramount, ensuring the trust complies with all relevant laws and regulations. Mistakes can jeopardize the beneficiary’s eligibility for government benefits.

The Process of Setting Up a Special Needs Trust

An elder law attorney will assess the individual’s needs and resources. They will guide the family through the trust selection process, tailoring the trust to the beneficiary’s unique circumstances.

Maintaining and Monitoring the Trust

The attorney’s job remains ongoing even after the trust is set up. They will continue to oversee the trust, ensuring it serves the beneficiary’s best interests and stays compliant with changing laws.

The Benefits of Special Needs Trusts

Special needs trusts are more than just financial safety nets. They enhance the beneficiary’s life while providing peace of mind to the family.

Financial Security and Independence

A well-crafted trust provides a stable source of funds for the beneficiary’s needs without affecting their eligibility for government benefits.

Quality of Life Enhancement

The trust can pay for goods and services that enhance the beneficiary’s quality of life, from educational opportunities to recreational activities.

Peace of Mind for Families

Knowing their loved one is financially secure and well-cared for gives the family peace of mind.

Common Misconceptions About Special Needs Trusts

There are many misconceptions surrounding special needs trusts. For instance, some believe these trusts are only for the wealthy, which is untrue. They can benefit anyone with a disability, regardless of the family’s financial status.


Special needs trusts play a crucial role in planning for the financial future of loved ones with disabilities. With the direction of an elder law attorney, families can ensure these trusts are correctly established, managed, and maintained, providing the utmost care for their loved ones.


Q1.  What is the primary purpose of a Special Needs Trust?

The immediate goal is to provide financial support for disabled individuals without jeopardizing their eligibility for government assistance.

Q2. Can a Special Needs Trust pay for housing?

Yes, but it could reduce the beneficiary’s SSI benefits. An elder law attorney can guide this matter.

Q3. Who can serve as a trustee for a Special Needs Trust? 

An individual, a professional trust company, or a non-profit organization can be a trustee.

Q4. What happens to the Special Needs Trust after the beneficiary’s death? 

The answer relies on the type of trust. In a self-settled faith, the state may be repaid for Medicaid benefits. Third-party trusts have more flexibility on how remaining assets are distributed.

Q5. Can a family member set up a Special Needs Trust?

Yes, but due to the complex legal rules involved, working with an elder law attorney is advisable.


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