BOOK REVIEW: A Valuable Resource for All Special Needs Trustees, Not Just Those in California

Kevin Urbatsch. Administering the California Special Needs Trust (Bowker, 2020; 657 pages).

$39.95 from Amazon -- click on book cover to order.

If you are the trustee of a special needs trust (SNT), your special needs planner is your best resource. But you can't take your planner home with you, and your lawyer generally isn't giving out his or her home phone number so you can get in touch if you have a question in the middle of the night. In those instances, this new book by attorney and Academy of Special Needs Planners' National Director Kevin Urbatsch is the closest thing to having a special needs planner on call, 24 hours a day. And don't let the title fool you; most of the information in this incredibly helpful resource applies to any trustee, anywhere in the country.

In his introduction, Urbatsch explains that the book began life as a 20-page handbook that he gave to clients to help guide them as they began their roles as trustees of special needs trusts. However, "in late 2009, he writes, I tried expanding my client handout, but as I started working on it, I realized it was going to take a much more thorough treatment to provide the kind of guidance I felt was necessary. Thus, this book was born."

Newly revised in a 2020 edition, Administering the California Special Needs Trust is essentially one very complete question-and-answer session. The book is divided into chapters with general headings like "Managing SNT Investments and Assets" and "Knowing How SNT Distributions Affect Public Benefits." Within each chapter are a number of one-sentence questions and very thorough answers. For instance, in a chapter on trust accounting, readers will find the answers to questions like "Who should prepare non-court supervised accountings?" (the trustee or his attorney) and "What happens if a trustee fails to keep proper records?" (nothing good).

For the 2020 edition, the book has been updated and largely reorganized, with chapters added on handling trust distributions for home, caregiving, and automobiles.  It also incorporates the 2018 update to the Social Security Administration's (SSA) Program Operations Manual System (POMS), the rulebook the agency uses to administer its program.  (In 2018, the SSA published its long-awaited updates to the POMS for special needs trusts.)

Throughout the book, Urbatsch provides a variety of real-world examples to illustrate complicated issues. These anecdotes liven up subjects that in less capable hands could be dull, and greatly improve the book's readability.

Because Administering the California Special Needs Trust is subdivided into many bite-sized pieces, it's definitely not necessary to read the book from cover to cover (although a trustee will probably want to). Instead, it can be used as a reference when questions arise, and it serves as a perfect starting point for a trustee who may not have remembered all of the tips she has received from her attorney.

Any book that claims to be a guide to administering a California trust is obviously going to be best suited for trustees who live in that state. However, many government benefit programs, like Supplemental Security Income (SSI), are national in scope, and the eligibility rules are the same regardless of where you live. Furthermore, while each state has its own rules about trust administration, Urbatsch's general tips for running a trust apply to everyone, and his vast knowledge of the practical aspects of trust administration is apparent. For these reasons, Administering the California Special Needs Trust is a great resource for trustees of special needs trusts from Hawaii to Maine, and all points in between.

While Urbatsch's book can benefit readers in any state, those in Michigan may want to instead pick up Administering the Michigan Special Needs Trust by Urbatsch and ASNP member Michele P. Fuller, which is based on Urbatsch's book but includes cites and information specific to Michigan residents. 

Article Last Modified: 03/04/2020