Special Needs Trusts

Special Needs Trusts
Special Needs Trusts
Full Overview Of Special Needs Trusts

A Special Needs Trust (SNT), or a Supplemental Needs Trust, is an invaluable tool for providing financial security to individuals with disabilities while preserving their eligibility for essential government benefits.

At DLS Solicitors, we understand the critical importance of carefully structured SNTs in ensuring the long-term care and support of beneficiaries with special needs. This overview will explore the intricacies of SNTs, their types, benefits, and legal considerations, as well as the best practices for setting up and managing these trusts.

Understanding Special Needs Trusts

A Special Needs Trust (SNT) is a legal arrangement designed to hold assets for the benefit of people with disabilities without jeopardising their eligibility for means-tested government benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid. The primary objective of an SNT is to supplement, rather than replace, the government benefits available to the beneficiary.

Types of Special Needs Trusts

There are three main types of Special Needs Trusts: First-Party, Third-Party, and Pooled Trusts. Each type serves specific purposes and has distinct characteristics.

First-Party Special Needs Trusts

Also known as self-settled or payback trusts, First-Party SNTs are funded with the beneficiary’s own assets. These can include inheritance, personal injury settlements, or other resources belonging to the individual with disabilities.

Key Features:

  • Must be established by the beneficiary, their parents, grandparents, legal guardian, or a court.
  • Must be irrevocable and for the sole benefit of the disabled individual.
  • It requires a payback provision, meaning any remaining assets in the trust after the beneficiary’s death must be used to repay Medicaid for services provided during the beneficiary’s lifetime.

Third-Party Special Needs Trusts

Third-Party SNTs are funded with assets from someone other than the beneficiary, typically parents, grandparents, or other relatives. These trusts are often set up as part of an estate plan to provide for a disabled loved one.

Key Features:

  • Can be established during the lifetime of the donor (inter vivos) or through a will (testamentary).
  • Does not require a Medicaid payback provision since the assets were never owned by the beneficiary.
  • Offers greater flexibility in terms of how the trust can be structured and used.

Pooled Special Needs Trusts

Pooled Trusts are managed by nonprofit organisations and combine the resources of many beneficiaries into a single trust while maintaining separate accounts for each beneficiary.

Key Features:

  • Suitable for individuals who may not have significant assets to justify a standalone trust.
  • Managed by professional trustees with experience in special needs planning.
  • It usually involves lower administrative costs due to pooled management.
  • Like First-Party SNTs, Pooled Trusts require a Medicaid payback provision.

Benefits of Special Needs Trusts

Preservation of Government Benefits

The primary benefit of an SNT is that it allows the beneficiary to maintain eligibility for means-tested government benefits such as SSI and Medicaid. By holding assets in trust rather than directly in the beneficiary’s name, these resources are not counted towards asset limits for these programmes.

Enhanced Quality of Life

SNTs provide for the beneficiary’s supplemental needs that government benefits may not cover. This can include medical and dental care, personal care attendants, rehabilitation services, educational expenses, recreational activities, and other quality-of-life enhancements.

Financial Security

An SNT offers a structured way to manage and disburse funds over the beneficiary’s lifetime, ensuring that resources are available for long-term care and support. This financial security can bring peace of mind to both the beneficiary and their family.

Professional Management

Special Needs Trusts are typically managed by professional trustees who have experience in handling the unique needs and requirements of beneficiaries with disabilities. This professional oversight ensures that the trust is administered properly and in compliance with relevant laws and regulations.

Protection from Creditors

Assets held in a properly structured SNT are generally protected from creditors. This can be particularly important in safeguarding the beneficiary’s resources from potential financial exploitation or legal claims.

Drafting the Trust Document

The trust document is the cornerstone of an SNT and must be meticulously drafted to meet legal requirements and the specific needs of the beneficiary. Key elements include the purpose of the trust, trustee powers and duties, distribution standards, and any special provisions related to the beneficiary’s disability.

Compliance with State and Federal Laws

SNTs must comply with both state and federal laws governing trusts and public benefits. It is essential to ensure that the trust document adheres to the relevant statutes, regulations, and guidelines to maintain the beneficiary’s eligibility for government benefits.

Selection of Trustees

Choosing the right trustee is critical for the effective management of an SNT. Trustees should have a strong understanding of fiduciary responsibilities, trust administration, and the specific needs of the beneficiary. It is often advisable to appoint a professional trustee or a corporate fiduciary with experience in special needs planning.

Tax Considerations

SNTs have specific tax implications that must be considered. The trust may be subject to income tax, and the trustee is responsible for filing annual tax returns on behalf of the trust. Proper tax planning can help minimise tax liabilities and ensure compliance with tax laws.

Funding the Trust

Properly funding the trust is crucial to its effectiveness. This may involve transferring assets during the donor’s lifetime, naming the trust as a beneficiary of life insurance policies or retirement accounts, or bequeathing assets through a will.

Best Practices for Establishing and Managing Special Needs Trusts

Comprehensive Planning

Establishing an SNT requires comprehensive planning to address the unique needs and circumstances of the beneficiary. This includes evaluating the beneficiary’s current and future needs, assessing available resources, and considering the impact on government benefits.

Collaboration with Experts

Working with a team of experts, including solicitors, financial planners, and care coordinators, can help ensure that all aspects of the trust are properly addressed. This multidisciplinary approach can provide a holistic plan that maximises the benefits for the beneficiary.

Regular Reviews and Updates

It is essential to review the trust regularly and make updates as needed to reflect changes in the beneficiary’s circumstances, changes in the law, or other relevant factors. Regular reviews can help ensure that the trust continues to meet its intended purpose.

Clear Communication

Clear communication with all parties involved, including the beneficiary, family members, and trustees, is vital for the successful administration of the trust. Ensuring that everyone understands the terms of the trust and their respective roles can help prevent misunderstandings and conflicts.

Monitoring and Compliance

Ongoing monitoring and compliance are necessary to ensure that the trust remains in good standing. Trustees must keep accurate records, adhere to reporting requirements, and stay informed about changes in laws and regulations that may affect the trust.


Special Needs Trusts (SNTs) are powerful tools for providing financial security and enhancing the quality of life for individuals with disabilities. At DLS Solicitors, we are committed to helping our clients navigate the complexities of establishing and managing SNTs, ensuring their loved ones receive the support and care they deserve. By understanding the different types of SNTs, the benefits they offer, and the legal considerations involved, you can make informed decisions that protect the interests of your beneficiary and provide peace of mind for your family.

Creating a Special Needs Trust requires careful planning, expert guidance, and a deep understanding of the beneficiary’s needs. At DLS Solicitors, our experienced team is dedicated to providing the highest level of service and support, helping you create a trust that meets your goals and ensures the well-being of your loved one. Whether you are setting up a First-Party, Third-Party, or Pooled Trust, we are here to assist you every step of the way, providing the knowledge and expertise needed to navigate this complex area of law with confidence and care.

Special Needs Trusts FAQ'S

A Special Needs Trust, also known as a Disabled Person’s Trust, is a legal arrangement designed to provide financial support to a person with disabilities without affecting their eligibility for means-tested benefits. The trust holds and manages assets for the benefit of the disabled person.

A Special Needs Trust can be set up by parents, grandparents, other relatives, or friends of a disabled person. The settlor (the person establishing the trust) can create the trust either during their lifetime or through their will to take effect upon their death.

The primary benefit of a Special Needs Trust is that it allows the disabled person to receive financial support without losing eligibility for means-tested benefits such as Income Support, Housing Benefit, or Employment and Support Allowance. It also provides a way to manage and protect assets for the long-term benefit of the disabled person.

The primary beneficiary of a Special Needs Trust is a disabled person who qualifies under the criteria set by the trust. The trust can specify additional beneficiaries who may benefit under certain circumstances, but the disabled person must be the main focus of the trust’s provisions.

Special Needs Trusts can be funded through various means, including cash, investments, property, and life insurance policies. The assets are transferred into the trust to be managed by the trustees for the benefit of the disabled person.

A Special Needs Trust is managed by trustees appointed by the settlor. Trustees can be family members, friends, professionals, or a combination thereof. Trustees have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the disabled beneficiary and manage the trust assets prudently.

No, the disabled person does not have direct control over the assets in a Special Needs Trust. The trustees manage the assets and make decisions on how to use the trust funds to benefit the disabled person, ensuring that the trust’s objectives and legal requirements are met.

A properly structured Special Needs Trust ensures that the assets held in the trust are not counted as the disabled person’s resources for means-tested benefits. This allows the beneficiary to continue receiving benefits such as Income Support, Housing Benefit, and Employment and Support Allowance.

Whether a Special Needs Trust can be revoked or amended depends on how it is set up. Some trusts are irrevocable, meaning they cannot be changed once established. Others may include provisions allowing for amendments or revocation under specific circumstances. Legal advice should be sought to understand the options.

When the beneficiary of a Special Needs Trust dies, the trust will be dissolved, and the remaining assets will be distributed according to the terms set out in the trust deed. This might include returning assets to the settlor, distributing them to other named beneficiaries, or donating to a charity.


This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 17th July 2024.

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Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

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