What is Special Needs Law?

October 6, 2006

What is Special Needs Law?
Special Needs Law is the practice of law dedicated to helping persons with disabilities (“special needs”) and their families by navigating their government benefits and estate planning options.

What is a “special needs” trust?
“Special Needs” is just a term to describe any trust intended to provide benefits without causing the beneficiary to lose public benefits he or she is entitled to receive.

What kinds of public benefits do special needs trust beneficiaries receive?
Each special needs trust can be intended to protect different public benefits. Most commonly, special needs trusts are intended to permit Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid recipients to receive some additional services or goods.

Does the existence of a special needs trust qualify the beneficiary for public benefits?
No. The existence of a special needs trust does not itself make public benefits available; the beneficiary must qualify for the benefits program already, or qualify after the trust is established. If properly established, the special needs trust will not cause of loss of benefits (although in some circumstances the level of benefits may be reduced), but the trust does not make it easier to qualify.

What is a “supplemental benefits” trust?
Some lawyers prefer to use the term “supplemental benefits” rather than “special needs.” Occasionally, the term “supplemental needs” is used. All are interchangeable, and describe the purpose of the trust rather than being a limited legal term.

Who can establish a special needs trust?
Anyone can establish a special needs trust, but there are two general categories of such trusts: self-settled and third-party trusts, which we will go into in detail in the next newsletter.

Lawrence Eric Davidow is a founding memeber and the Treasurer of the Special Needs Alliance (www.specialneedsalliance.com) which is a premier alliance of leading law firms throughout the country who are dedicated to the area of planning for those with special needs. These hand-picked law firms have the resources to devise solutions and insure financial security for special needs clients nationwide.