What Every Trustee Should Know About Administering a Special Needs Trust

When a person creates a special needs trust, it is designed for the benefit of a beneficiary who cannot or should not receive distributions of trust assets outright and free of trust. A trustee is appointed to administer the trust and ensure that the beneficiary is taken care of in the manner that the settlor of the trust intended. Before administration begins, it is crucial to learn more about administering this unique type of trust.

8 Tips for Administering a Special Needs Trust

As you begin the process of administering a special needs trust, consider taking the following steps:

  1. Carefully read the trust document. It is important that you understand every provision contained within the document. Unless you have a legal background, this may require assistance from an attorney.
  2. Meet the beneficiary if you have not already done so. A trust administration is a personal process, and it is important to establish a relationship. It is also important to assess the beneficiary’s current living situation, needs, and wants.
  3. Determine when and how often you need to prepare trust accountings. Many trust documents will contain a provision to this effect. If not, the frequency of accountings is governed by state law. It is also important to determine who should receive the accountings, such as a parent, guardian, friend, or other party.
  4. Determine if you need to post bond before beginning the administration of the special needs trust. A bond is similar to an insurance policy and is sometimes required in order to protect the trust assets and the beneficiary from a trustee’s wrongdoing.
  5. Obtain an accurate depiction of the benefits that the trust beneficiary currently receives. For example, does the beneficiary receive Social Security benefits? Medicaid? Medicare? It is important to understand the types of benefits as well as the unique rules associated with each program.
  6. Understand when and how you are supposed to make distributions to the beneficiary. Some distributions could impact the beneficiary’s ability to receive certain benefits.
  7. Establish whether or not the trust is a grantor or non-grantor trust for income tax purposes. This is difficult to do without an extensive estate planning and tax law background. Your attorney can assist you in making this determination as well as ensure that taxes are paid in the proper manner.
  8. Obtain HIPAA releases before paying medical providers. This may include doctors, psychotherapists, counselors, and physical therapists. The release is necessary in order to allow you to talk to the health care provider about the beneficiary’s progress, appointments, and billing matters.

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