An Updated One-Stop Reference for Trustees of Special Needs Trusts


Barbara D. Jackins, Richard S. Blank, Ken W. Shulman and Harriet H. Onello. Managing a Special Needs Trust: A Guide for Trustees, 2012 Edition. Brookline, MA: DisABILITIESBOOKS, Inc., 2012. 242 pages.

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If you are taking on the responsibility of serving as the trustee of a special needs trust, or if you have set up a special needs trust and have named a friend or family member as the trustee, then you will probably have a lot of questions about the trustee's role. Although a qualified special needs planner will provide the most up-to-date legal information about a trustee's responsibilities, you will also need a "go-to" reference guide that you or your trustee can refer to when you have questions about your duties as trustee or if you have trouble understanding the ins and outs of a specific public benefit program. For most trustees, the recently revised Managing a Special Needs Trust: A Guide for Trustees will be that resource.

Serving as the trustee of any trust is hard enough, but the trustees of special needs trusts face the added pressure of having to make sure that their actions do not interfere with a trust beneficiary's receipt of public benefits. The authors of Managing a Special Needs Trust: A Guide for Trustees, who are all practicing attorneys, spend a great deal of time explaining in layman's terms how most major public benefits programs function and how a trustee of a special needs trust should manage the trust to ensure continued access to benefits. Individual chapters provide detailed information about Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Medicaid, Medicare, and, importantly, public housing. The new edition covers Social Security's recent (June 2012) attempt to place restrictions on trustees who loan trust funds to the beneficiary, pay travel costs for the beneficiary's family, compensate family caregivers, and purchase a vehicle or residence with the trust funds. It also updates key facts and figures.

Although this thorough course in public benefits is incredibly helpful, the main purpose of the book is, as the title suggests, to help the trustee manage the trust. The remainder of the book focuses on the panoply of issues that trustees often must address in the course of trust administration. For instance, the authors discuss when to make distributions and the best way to pay for different types of goods and services for a trust beneficiary, and they also give helpful budgeting and accounting examples that will serve as templates for most trustees. Chapters on taxation and investing seem to have been designed mainly for beginners and will probably be skipped by more sophisticated trustees, but the majority of the book can, and should, be used by trustees with different levels of experience.

No single reference book can substitute for wise counsel from professionals like a special needs planner, an investment adviser and a CPA -- and to their credit the authors explicitly acknowledge this and offer detailed guidance on finding such professionals. But most trustees could probably benefit from using Managing a Special Needs Trust: A Guide for Trustees as a source for all the supplemental information needed to effectively manage a special needs trust.

Article Last Modified: 04/23/2013


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