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When crafting an estate plan for a loved one with special needs, or anyone else, perhaps the single most important decision you can make is determining who will be the trustee for the estate plan. It is important to choose wisely, because the trustee will command great control over how funds are managed and how distributions are made.

In the beginning, the trustee could be a parent, guardian or family member. If the original trustee is not up to the task, or if managing the trust becomes too complicated, hiring a professional, like an estate planning attorney or professional trust company, should be considered.  A professional can competently oversee important investments, tax issues, and regulatory matters.

Some basic responsibilities are:

  • Establishing investment accounts.
  • Managing trust assets.
  • Knowing legal ins-and-outs and the specific language of the trust.
  • Staying on top of hired professionals.
  • Filing annual federal and state income tax returns.
  • Making distributions that will not disqualify the beneficiary from benefits.

Just as important as selecting a trustee, can be selecting a back-up trustee. This part of the plan is often overlooked but can have just as much of an impact on the long-term stability of a special needs loved one as anything else.

The first question to ask when considering a back-up trustee is whether he or she is qualified to take over your responsibilities or those of another named trustee?  Being well-meaning and interested in caring for a special needs loved one is not enough on its own, although such individuals make for good advocates. A distinction can be that advocates are those who intimately understand a special needs person, while a trustee typically also is able to focus on the financial and legal management of the trust. The ideal plan is when they work together!

Every special needs trust is different, just as every special needs individual is different. A back-up trustee will be responsible for making sure that the purpose of the trust is carried out, even in the event of your passing. Back-up trustees must make sure that trust assets are used only as allowed by applicable laws to ensure valuable government benefits are not reduced or eliminated. This is an extremely important concern that Special Needs Trusts are designed to avoid.

A back-up trustee is key to the financial stability of your special needs loved one’s future. It is highly recommended that you seek professional guidance from a qualified estate planning attorney in this decision. If you have questions on this article or are ready to plan forward, do not wait to contact our office and schedule an appointment.