A Letter of Intent is a document that goes hand-in-hand with a Special Needs Trust or a Supplemental Needs Trust. Also known by the names “Plan of Care,” “Memorandum of Care,” and “Memorandum of Intent,” the purpose for writing a Letter of Intent is to provide instructions and information to new caretakers when a person with special needs is transitioning out of the direct care of a parent or legal guardian. Since the parent or guardian is the ideal source of details about a beneficiary’s specific needs, preferences, and personality traits, writing a Letter of Intent is key for preserving the beneficiary’s quality of life.
As you can imagine, Letters of Intent often take some time to write because there is much information to record. Not only should the names and addresses of doctors, financial advisors, and close family members be provided, it is also crucial to include the Beneficiary’s favorite foods, entertainment preferences, daily habits, future goals, and friends. Making this information available will help enhance the Beneficiary’s ability to adjust to the change of scenery and caretaker. It will also assist the new caretaker with supplanting a personal connection with the Beneficiary. Since Letters of Intent are not legal documents and do not need to be notarized, keep in mind that they are malleable. A Letter of Intent should be edited and re-printed as the Beneficiary’s needs and preferences evolve. Remember, if you are the guardian, review the Letter of Intent with the Beneficiary and other members of his or her network of support on a regular basis and make sure that the most current edition travels with the legal documents.
For more information about Letters of Intent and transitions of care for your child with special needs, consult an attorney or visit www.pacer.org and www.thearc.org.
One of the most important and common questions that Trustees ask is regarding the specific sorts of items that funds from a Special Needs Trust and Supplemental Needs Trust may purchase for the Beneficiary. Generally speaking, there are three important questions to keep in mind when making this decision: 1) Is the good or service provided by government benefits? 2) Is the distribution allowed by the Trust Agreement? 3) Is the distribution for the sole benefit of the Beneficiary?
Let’s say, for example, that the Beneficiary’s transport vehicle needs a repair to its accessible ramp. This repair cost can paid with trust funds if it is not covered through government assistance, if this type of expense is allowed in the Trust Agreement, and if the distribution is for the sole benefit of the Beneficiary. In most cases, an accessible ramp repair fits the bill. Some other examples of common trust purchases are a new TV for the Beneficiary’s room, a hotel room rental on vacation, a class at a local community college, or non-government funded medical expenses such as massage therapy.
Things may get a little bit more confusing when it comes to paying for food and shelter. Government assistance is intended to cover housing and food, so in order for the Beneficiary to continue receiving all of his or her available funding, it is important to make sure that trust funds do not pay for groceries, regular restaurant meals, rent, utilities, or home insurance. Also, the Beneficiary should not receive cash directly from the trust. Legally speaking, these types of expenditures are an increase to the Beneficiary’s personal income, which triggers a reduction in government funding. However, one caveat to keep in mind is that when trust funds are used for food and shelter costs, there is a reduction of only $1 dollar to SSI benefits for every $3 dollars spent. For some beneficiaries, this tradeoff may actually be the best course of action. That is why it is helpful to consult with an attorney who specializes in Special and Supplemental Needs Trusts. Not only will the attorney explain the full range of goods and services that the trust may provide, he or she will also be able to hash out the best spending options for your given situation.
Taking on the role of Trustee of a Special Needs Trust or Supplemental Needs Trust is an important responsibility. It is a Trustee’s duty to manage trust funds with careful discretion and disburse the funds for the sole benefit of the Beneficiary. The Trustee has the additional responsibility of seeing that the trust funds are properly invested and protected. Considering the scope of the undertaking, there are a few things potential Trustees should consider before accepting the role.
First, make sure that you have the opportunity to read the trust agreement and learn the specific duties unique to the trust nominating you as Trustee, such as what sorts of expenditures can be funded with trust assets, what are the legal responsibilities and duties you assume in the Trustee role, and whether the Trust provides for financial compensation for your role as Trustee. In addition, you should also establish the Grantor’s objective for creating the trust, the personal goals that you can help the Beneficiary achieve while you serve as Trustee, and how long your services as Trustee will be needed. Finally, taking time to become familiar with the Beneficiary’s needs, habits, and preferences is very important since it is the Trustee’s job to provide distributions to meet the Beneficiary’s supplemental needs.
If you are nominated as the Trustee in a Special Needs Trust or Supplemental Needs Trust, it is a good idea to consult with the attorney who drafted the trust agreement so the ins and outs of your duties may be fully clarified. As drafters of the trust, attorneys are ultimately your best source of answers for your preliminary questions. Keep in mind that it is important to be honest with yourself as you consider becoming a Trustee. If the trust agreement is unavailable for your review or if you do not feel that you have the time to undertake the Trustee role, it is wise to reconsider for your own good and the good of the Beneficiary.
A Special Needs Trust is a trust established to meet the supplemental needs of a person with a legally defined disability who is under the age of 65. The trust is funded with funds or assets which already legally belong to the disabled individual. These can be assets that are already in their name, a cause of action on behalf of the beneficiary which will provide a settlement amount or jury award to the beneficiary from a personal injury or medical malpractice action; accounts on which the beneficiary is already named as a beneficiary payee or joint tenant; or the beneficiary’s interest in a property settlement in a divorce action. A Special Needs Trust is commonly called a “first party trust” because the trust is funded with assets which belong to the beneficiary.
The Special Needs Trust may only be established by the beneficiary’s parents, Guardian or conservator or by court order. Whoever is establishing the trust is called the Grantor. Once funded the trust can be used to supplement the government assistance provided to the beneficiary. These benefits can include advanced medical treatments, education, leisure, furniture, appliances and activities. Once the trust is funded the Trustee is the person who manages the trust funds and makes disbursements on behalf of the beneficiary. Disbursements can only be made for the benefit of the beneficiary and not for the beneficiary’s spouse or family members. Because the funds belong to the beneficiary prior to their placement into the trust a Special Needs Trust must contain a “payback provision”. This provision provides that upon the death of the beneficiary the trustee must first satisfy any claim by the state for medical assistance benefits provided to the beneficiary.