It’s a scene familiar to many grandparents: small children in footie pajamas seated around the Christmas tree, tearing open one brightly festooned package after another and greeting the contents with whoops of joy over the model train set or Astronaut Barbie and with restrained glee over the socks and with more restrained delight over the socks and underwear Aunt Julia always sends.
Long after the toys have been loved into pieces, Grandma and Grandpa can continue bringing joy to their grandchildren through an estate plan that includes testamentary bequests that leave children or grandchildren money or property. Should, however, one of these grandchildren have a disability, Grandma and Grandpa’s gift may prove an even worse gift than a lump of coal in that child’s stocking.
Many individuals with disabilities will, throughout their lives, require government benefits such as Medicaid and Social Security Income (SSI), to pay for the many services that will allow them to live as safe, healthy, and happy lives as they are capable of. While these services do great good, they come with a catch: that the recipient cannot have more than $2,000 in financial resources, like cash or stocks.
For example: if grandparents give each grandchild the same amount – say, a $5,000 bond that matures when the recipient turns 18 – although this gift may help the grandchild defray the expense of college or make dream wedding come true, a grandchild with a disability will lose far more than $5,000 in government benefits – essential to health care, housing, and many other services, ironically impoverished by her grandparents’ generosity.
Happily, there’s a way that grandparents can give generously to a grandchild with a disability, without imperiling the recipient’s government benefits. This instrument is called a Special Needs (or Supplemental Needs) Trust (SNT). In contrast to other trusts, funds held in an SNT do not count toward the $2,000 resource limit. With the help of an experienced estate-planning attorney who also has expertise crafting SNTs, grandparents can establish and fund such a trust for their grandchild of any age. They can serve as the trustees themselves, or appoint a professional trustee, or a family member to manage the trust.
The Special Needs Trust is not only a splendid gift to give a loved one with a disability, but it’s also a wonderful gift to the disabled child’s parents, lifting from them the immense burden of worry regarding their child’s long-term access to the non-essentials that will make their child’s life happy far into the future.