The establishment of a special needs trust can provide a false sense of security that you are all set. The money that funds the trust will secure the resources for your loved one to be cared for.
One of the most common questions asked by families is when should they start funding their Special Needs Trust (SNT). In most circumstances the SNT is funded at the death of the parent(s) or primary care giver, rather than during their lifetime. The individual who funds the trust is the Donor. The individual who benefits from the trust is the Beneficiary. The individual who oversees the trust is the Trustee. The term used for a trust that is funded at the death of an individual is a Testamentary Trust.
There are several reasons for not funding the trust during a donor’s lifetime, some of which are the following:
Once a trust is funded, the money can only be used to meet the beneficiary’s supplemental needs.
A separate tax return must be filed.
Taxes on any earnings must be paid by the trust. Income earned in the trust is usually taxed at a higher tax rate than an individual rate.
Once a trust is funded, it becomes irrevocable. This prevents you from making any changes to the terms of the trust.
Overall, there is no flexibility in your plan.
Although funding the trust may reduce flexibility, the following are some of the reasons why one may consider funding a SNT during the lifetime of the donor as a planning strategy:
If an individual has more than enough money to meet his/her personal needs and will not jeopardize their personal financial security.
Provides the donor with the comfort of knowing that there will be a certain amount of money available for the beneficiary.
Parents who have taxable estates and are implementing strategies to reduce their estate tax liability.
Grandparents or others are trying to reduce their taxable estate by gifting to your child – the SNT protects the child’s eligibility for government benefits.
Money in the trust can provide some protection from creditors.
Money directly received by the child either through an inheritance and/or a legal settlement which would otherwise disqualify them for benefits. This would be a “payback” SNT.
Regardless of the timing decision for funding the trust, it is important to do whatever you can to makes sure there will be adequate money in the trust to provide for your child’s security. There are two steps:
- identify what the anticipated needs will be
- assess what steps you can realistically take to provide what is necessary in light of your other financial requirements and goals.