special needs trust

Serving Southwest Florida

Helping clients plan for their family's future, by creating an efficient, thoughtful and comprehensive estate plan that preserves their legacy and gives them peace of mind.

Estate Planning With Trusts

Many people create their estate planning with trusts. A trust is a legal agreement that has at least three parties. The same person(a) can be in more than one of these roles at the same time. The terms of the trust usually are embodied in a legal document called a trust agreement. Forbes’s recent article entitled “Here’s What You Need To Know About The Most-Popular Estate Planning Trusts” explains that the first party is the person who creates the trust, known as a trustor, grantor, settlor, or creator.

The trustee is the second party to the agreement. This person has legal title to the property in the trust and manages the property, according to the instructions in the trust and state law. The third party is the beneficiary who benefits from the trust. There can be multiple beneficiaries at the same time, and there also can be different beneficiaries over time.

The trustee is a fiduciary who must manage the trust property only for the interests of the beneficiaries and consistent with the trust agreement and the law. Although a trust is created when the trust agreement is signed and executed, it isn’t really operational until it’s funded by transferring property to it.

A living trust, also called an inter vivos trust, is a trust that’s created during the trustor’s lifetime. A testamentary trust is created in the trustor’s last will and testament. A trust can be revocable, which means that the trustor can revoke it or modify the terms at any time. An irrevocable trust can’t be changed or revoked.

Assets that are owned by a trust avoid the cost, delay and publicity of probate. However, there are no tax benefits to a revocable living trust. The settlors-trustees are taxed as though they still own the assets. The trust assets are also included in their estates under the federal estate tax.

Another form of estate planning with trusts is the irrevocable trust typically created to reduce income and/or estate taxes. This type of trust can also protect assets from creditors. When assets are transferred to an irrevocable trust, the income and gains are taxed to the trust when they are retained by the trust and taxed to the beneficiaries when distributed to them.

Under the federal estate tax and most state estate taxes, assets that are retitled to an irrevocable trust aren’t part of the grantor’s estate. Transfers to the trust are gifts to the beneficiaries. The grantor’s gift tax annual exclusion and lifetime exemption can be used to avoid gift taxes, until gifts exceed the exclusion and exemption limit.

A grantor trust is an income tax term that describes a trust where the grantor is taxed on the income. That’s because he or she retained rights to or benefits of the property. The revocable living trust is an example of a grantor trust.

A trust can be discretionary or nondiscretionary. A trustee of a discretionary trust has the power to make or withhold distributions to beneficiaries as the trustee deems appropriate or in their best interests. In a nondiscretionary trust, the trustee makes distributions according to the directions in the trust agreement.

Another type of estate planning using a trust is the spendthrift trust. This is an irrevocable trust that can be either living or testamentary. The key term restricts limits the beneficiary’s access to the trust principal, and the beneficiary and the beneficiary’s creditors can’t force distributions. The spendthrift provision is used when the settlor is worried that a beneficiary might waste the money or have trouble with creditors. Many states permit spendthrift trusts, but some limit the amount of principal that can be protected, and some do not recognize spendthrift provisions.

Finally, a special needs trust can be used to provide for a person who needs assistance for life. In many cases, it’s a child or sibling of the trust settlor. It can be either living or testamentary. Critical to a special needs trust is it has provisions that make certain the beneficiary can receive financial support from the trust, without being disqualified from federal and state support programs for those with special needs.

For more about trusts and how one may fit into your estate planning, contact our office.

Reference: Forbes (Oct. 26, 2020) “Here’s What You Need To Know About The Most-Popular Estate Planning Trusts”

 

Special Needs Trusts

The most frequently used tool to protect and care for children with special needs after both parents has passed is a special needs trust (SNT), says Forbes in its article entitled “Making Trusts for Special Needs Children.” An SNT is a legal instrument used to provide benefits to an individual with special needs, while also maintaining that person’s ability to receive state or federal benefits assistance. The trust is usually created by a parent or guardian, with the special needs child as the beneficiary.

A third-party trustee is often appointed. That person or institution has authority to make disbursements from the assets in the trust on behalf of the beneficiary. This trust lets parents make sure that their child with special needs has his or her needs met after the parents pass away.

Some government benefits used by a person with special needs—such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid are “means tested.” That means they are only available to those who themselves have limited income or assets. If a parent wants to provide support to a child with special needs after the parent’s death, those assets must pass correctly to ensure that the assets don’t cause that child to directly own the assets and thereby lose their government eligibility for the benefits.

Again, any assets left directly to the beneficiary without use of an SNT could disrupt the beneficiary’s receipt of benefits, taking money and support away from the beneficiary.

The most common of these trusts is a third-party SNT. This trust is funded by family members of the beneficiary to make certain that there are specific assets set aside for the beneficiary’s utility bills, education, entertainment, or most other regular expenses.

There are also first-party trusts, where the trust is established with the assets owned directly by the child with special needs. This can result when the child with special needs receives an inheritance, life insurance payout, or personal injury settlement directly, which may impact their existing benefits.

There are also pooled trusts, which are trusts that are managed by a nonprofit organization. With a pooled trust, the grantor doesn’t have to name a trustee, especially one who may not have experience in managing trust assets. Consequently, the assets are held for the benefit of the child with special needs, but they are managed by an organization with expertise in doing just that.

An ABLE account is another option. They’re not trusts, but they allow up to $15,000 a year to be earmarked for the benefit of a person with special needs. The distribution rules are similar to those of a SNT.

There is significant complexity with the laws surrounding SNTs, so you should work with an experienced estate planning attorney or elder law attorney.  Let us help you design a special needs trust.

Reference: Forbes (Sep. 10, 2020) “Making Trusts for Special Needs Children”

 

Letter of Instruction in Estate Planning

A letter of instruction, or LOI, is a good addition to the documents included in your estate plan. It’s commonly used to express advice, wishes and practical information to help the people who will be taking care of your affairs, if you become incapacitated or die. According to this recent article “Letter of instruction in elder law estate plan can help with managing important information” from the Times Herald-Record, there are many different ways a Letter of Instruction can help.

In our digital world, you might want to use your Letter of Instruction to record website names, usernames and passwords for social media accounts, online accounts and other digital assets. This helps loved ones who you want to have access to your online life.

If you have minor children who are beneficiaries, the Letter of Instruction is a good way to share your priorities to the trustee on your wishes for the funds left for their care. It is common to leave money in trust for “Health, Education, Maintenance and Support.” However, you may want to be more specific, both about how money is to be spent and to share your thoughts about the path you’d like their lives to take in your absence.

Art collectors or anyone who owns valuable items, like musical instruments, antiques or collectibles may use the Letter of Instruction as an inventory that will be greatly appreciated by your executor. By providing a carefully created list of the items and any details, you’ll increase the likelihood that the collections will be considered by a potential purchaser. This would also be a good place to include any resources about the collections that you know of, but your heirs may not, like appraisers.

Animal lovers can use a Letter of  Instruction to share personalities, likes, dislikes and behavioral quirks of beloved pets, so their new caregivers will be better prepared. In most states, a pet trust can be created to name a caregiver and a trustee for funds that are designated for the pet’s care. The caregiver and the trustee may be the same person, or they may be two different individuals.

For families who have a special needs member, a Letter of Instruction is a useful means of sharing important information about the person . It works in tandem with a Special Needs Trust, which is created to leave assets to a person who receives government benefits without putting means-tested benefits in jeopardy. If there is no Special Needs Trust and the person receives an inheritance, they could lose access to their benefits.

Some of the information in a Letter of Instruction includes information on the nature of the disability, daily routines, medications, fears, preferred activities and anything that would help a caregiver provide better care, if the primary caregiver dies.

The Letter of Instruction can also be used to provide basic information, like where important documents are kept, who should be notified in case of death or incapacity, which bills should be paid, what home maintenance tasks need to be taken care of and who provides the services, etc. It is a useful document to help those you leave behind to adjust to their new responsibilities and care for loved ones.  It is not a legal document, per se, and may not be enforceable, but a Letter of Instruction is a valuable method to express your preferences.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (Sep. 8, 2020) “Letter of instruction in elder law estate plan can help with managing important information”