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Trusts: What is the purpose of a special needs trust?

Families in New York with disabled loved ones may consider available options to ensure their proper care. Special needs trusts can be set up to augment government assistance for a person with disabilities. Benefits provided by the state and the federal government typically cover no more than the individual's most basic and essential needs.

When a special needs trust is set up, any interested or concerned parties, family members and friends can make contributions to the trust for the benefit of the disabled person. It will not affect the means-tested benefits provided by governments such as Security Supplemental Income (SSI) and Medicaid. To qualify for these programs, limits are placed on his or her income, and the beneficiary's total assets must not exceed $2,000.

Any funds paid into a special needs trust can pay for goods, services or other needs of the disabled individual -- those that are not included in the coverage provided by government benefits. It could be costs for dental services, vision tests and related services, entertainment, recreation, and other expenses. However, it is important to note that any funds paid directly from the trust to the beneficiary might be regarded as an income, which could jeopardize the person's qualification for government benefits.

Setting up special needs trusts can be complicated and might need input from family members, financial advisers and others. Strict rules exist, and working with an experienced New York estate planning attorney can help a person establish a trust can that would provide the necessary supplementary care for a disabled loved one. At the same time, a trustee can be appointed to manage the trust and prevent financial abuse by ensuring that money is spent wisely. 

Source: cnbc.com, "How to set up a special needs trust", Mark Henricks, Accessed on March 30, 2018

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