Did you know that April is Autism Awareness Month? While awareness of Autism and its challenges continues to increase, we need to also take a moment to focus on the estate planning challenges the families of those with Autism are facing.
A special needs trust is a powerful estate planning tool for a family with an Autistic child. Funds are held by a trust and managed and distributed by a Trustee for the child’s needs without disrupting the public benefits they may require. But the Trustee needs to be well versed in the rules and regulations surrounding these benefits.
For instance, if a beneficiary of a special needs trust is also receiving SSI (Supplemental Security Income) benefits then the Trustee must be very careful to not make any distributions that would jeopardize the beneficiary’s SSI eligibility. The Trustee must not make distributions to the beneficiary for “food” or “shelter.” Benefits may be put at risk. Although food is allowed under certain circumstances, such as food provided during a “medical confinement” – it’s important to know what expenditures can be problematic.
There could also be SSI eligibility problems if the Trustee uses trust funds to pay for expenses relating to “shelter” such as rent, heating fuel, electricity, water, and garbage collection services. But don’t confuse “shelter costs” with “home ownership,” as it is normally allowable for a special needs trust to own a home in which the SSI beneficiary lives.
If you have a loved one with special needs such as Autism, work with a knowledgeable trust attorney to create a special needs trust. Such an attorney may explain the terms and conditions of a trust and the impact on benefits.