Special Needs Trusts: An Effective Way to Help Your Loved One Navigate Unique Challenges

Third-party special needs trusts (often shortened to special needs trusts) are a legal arrangement designed to protect and provide for people with disabilities. If you have a loved one with disabilities, a special needs trust may be a wonderful way for you to care for them and help them face their unique challenges, both now and in the future. Here’s how to use a special needs trust for a loved one:

How to Use a Special Needs Trust

1. Provide Finances for Your Loved One with Special Needs:

A special needs trust can provide financially for your loved one with special needs. The trust is funded by a third party, usually a family member or close friend, and not by the person with disabilities. Because the assets are in the name of the trust, and not in the name of the beneficiary with disabilities, it preserves their eligibility for government assistance programs. Public benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) cannot be obtained if a person is a considered too wealthy, but in many situations, a person with disabilities needs both public benefits and other sources of income to provide for all their needs. Special needs trusts give you the opportunity to provide for your loved one without disqualifying them from the other funds that they need.

2. Choose the Right Trustee to Manage Your Loved One’s Trust:

The trustee is responsible for managing the assets in the trust. It is their job to ensure that the assets are used for the benefit of the person with disabilities while at the same time not interfering with their government entitlements. When you create a special needs trust, the trustee could be you, or it could be someone else you appoint. Whoever the trustee is, it is crucial that they be trustworthy, competent, and caring, and that they understand the beneficiary’s unique needs. The trustee should also seek professional assistance from a skilled estate planning attorney to manage the trust in a way that complies with all laws and regulations related to government entitlements.

3. Involve a Care Manager:

Although not required, hiring an experienced care manager to help the trustee know how to use the trust funds is a wise idea.  A good care manager will be able identify and give advice about what types of medical treatment and therapy will be most beneficial to the individual with special needs.

4. Set Up Ongoing Collaboration:

Your loved one’s needs and circumstances are likely to change over time, and it will take multiple people collaborating to continue caring for them. Special needs trusts are most effective when the trustee, care manager, attorney, and other people involved maintain open lines of communication and work together. The trust itself will require ongoing maintenance and updates to ensure that it continues to serve your loved one with disabilities.

Special Needs Trusts: A Relational Way to Plan Your Estate

It does take some work to set up a special needs trust. But once you have created it and have the right people in place, it is a wonderful way to offer care and support to your loved one with disabilities.


Have more questions about how a special needs trust works, or ready to create one? Schedule an appointment with us today.

Disclaimer: The information you obtain in this post is not, nor is intended to be, legal advice. This blog shares general best practices when navigating Virginia or West Virginia law, but you should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.


Joshua E. Hummer, Esq. is the founder of Relational Estate and Elder Law, and he has been a practicing attorney for over 15 years. While experienced in many parts of the law, Josh specializes in estate planning, estate administration, and elder law. He is licensed in both Virginia and West Virginia. Josh’s passion lies in helping people gain peace of mind about the future through holistic legal planning. When he isn’t meeting with clients or crafting legal documents, Josh enjoys spending time with his lovely wife, Jill, and their four vibrant children.