Preserving Family Harmony: Who Should Administer Your Loved One’s Special Needs Trust?

If you have a loved one with special needs, you know the importance of protecting his or her eligibility for essential government benefits like MassHealth and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  You also know that these benefits alone are not enough to give your loved one the highest possible quality of life.

A special needs trust allows you to protect your loved one’s eligibility for essential government programs while providing funds for goods and services not covered by them.  It’s a powerful tool, one I frequently recommend and design for my special needs clients.

The question is, who will administer your loved one’s trust after you pass away—that is, who should you name as trustee?  Many families choose the oldest sibling, or perhaps the sibling who lives the closest.  In my experience, this is not always the best solution. Even in relatively tight-knit families there are often long-standing rivalries and other “baggage” that can lead to disagreements between siblings about how the trust’s assets should be used.  Another, less obvious potential problem is the resentment the individual with special needs might develop toward the trustee for having to repeatedly request money from the trust.

To prevent situations such as these from arising, I often recommend pooled special needs trusts, which are managed by nonprofit organizations.  Another option is to name an attorney or other professional to serve as trustee.  (I don’t serve in this capacity but can recommend several experienced professionals who do.)  This approach can help preserve the relationship between your special needs loved one and his or her siblings, as well as the relationship between siblings who might disagree about how to use the trust’s assets.

To learn more about special needs planning, I invite you to attend my presentation on Tuesday, October 19th at 6:30 p.m. at the Norwell Public Library.  The event is part of the Live Well Age Well educational series sponsored by the Norwell Council on Aging, First Parish Church of Norwell, and UCC Norwell.  Please RSVP to the Council on Aging at 781.659.7878.

I hope to see you there!

– Alexis