by Estate Planning Attorney Nydia Menendez

special needsIn matters of Estate Planning, there is never a one-size-fits-all document. Every family is different, and each of its members have specific needs and concerns that must be met using various planning tools. When a person’s Estate Plan includes a beneficiary with special needs, mentally or physically disabled, the planning needs to include the right tools to implement a Special Needs Trust. Otherwise, if the distributions are done outright to the family member with special needs, this could jeopardize their eligibility for government benefits such as Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Programs like Medicaid and SSI provide substantial support for persons with disabilities and for seniors. However, these government programs are need-based; meaning that to qualify, individuals must meet certain standards and demonstrate financial need. For example, in Florida to qualify for Medicaid a single applicant cannot earn more than $2,382.00 per month as of 2021. Therefore, the objective of setting a Special Needs Trust, is for the beneficiary to receive supplemental financial assistance in a way that does not affect their government benefits.

But what specifically is a Special Needs Trust? Well, a Special Needs Trust in Florida describes any Trust that has provisions designed to protect a physically or mentally disabled beneficiary’s eligibility for need-based government benefits like Medicaid or SSI. Special Needs Trusts include restrictions on how funds may be used so that distributions not be made to pay for items which are meant to be provided exclusively from government assistance programs for which the beneficiary may qualify. Thus, when a Trust is properly drafted and administered, the Trust funds can be used for the disabled beneficiary’s needs, but are not considered when determining their eligibility for government benefits.

Another benefit of a Special Needs Trust is that a designated Trustee is named by the person who creates the Trust. For purposes of succession, it is always prudent to also appoint successor Trustees. The ability to appoint the right people without the need of court intervention is extremely valuable.

The Trustee is responsible for managing the assets in the Trust to ensure the Trust remains a long-term source of funds for the special needs beneficiary. The Trustee must follow strict rules which prevent the use of these funds to pay for any services provided by the government benefits. This means that Medicaid and SSI cover the main needs of the special needs beneficiary while the funds from the Trust would only be used to enhance their quality of life providing extra support not covered by the government benefits. Some examples of additional benefits which can be paid with the funds in the Special Needs Trust include personal grooming, clothing and dry-cleaning, electronic devices including TVs and computers, musical instruments, medical services, therapies, companionship, vacations, and more.

Planning for a disabled beneficiary is never easy. There are many factors to consider when creating a Special Needs Trust, from selecting the right person to act as Trustee to making sure good intentions don’t cause harm preventing the qualification for government benefits. Here at Menéndez Law Firm, we can assist you with preparing a Special Needs Trust to make sure your loved ones are taken care of, even when you are not able to do it yourself.

How Can You Get Started with Your Estate Plan?

If you want to learn more about how to plan for your future to make sure you remain in control of your decisions while leaving a lasting legacy for your family, then we invite you to call our office at (954) 963-7220 to speak with a member of the Menéndez Law Firm. You may also want to watch the video series on our YouTube channel where we talk about Estate Planning in detail. Or if you would like to join us for the next live Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning webinar on Zoom you can register at no charge on our website

Nydia Menedez Nydia Menéndez
Estate Planning Attorney
Menéndez Law Firm
2699 Stirling Road, Suite B200
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312
Tel.: (954) 963-7220
Fax:  (954) 963-7232
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