Understanding Special Needs Trusts: A Legal Guide


Navigating the world of special needs planning can be a daunting task for families and caregivers. One of the most crucial components of this journey is understanding Special Needs Trusts (SNTs). As a legal tool, SNTs play a vital role in safeguarding the financial future of individuals with disabilities. In this guide, we will delve into the legal aspects of setting up an SNT, the different types available, and their unique benefits.

What is a Special Needs Trust?

A Special Needs Trust is a legal arrangement that holds assets for a person with disabilities, ensuring they have financial resources for their care without jeopardizing eligibility for government benefits. Unlike other forms of trusts, an SNT is designed specifically to meet the unique needs of individuals with disabilities.

Types of Special Needs Trusts

There are primarily three types of Special Needs Trusts:

  1. First-Party Special Needs Trusts: These are funded with the beneficiary’s assets, often received from an inheritance, legal settlement, or personal savings. They are used to benefit individuals under 65 with disabilities and require any remaining funds to be reimbursed to Medicaid upon the beneficiary’s death.
  2. Third-Party Special Needs Trusts: Funded by someone other than the beneficiary, these trusts do not have a Medicaid payback provision. They are often set up by parents or family members to provide for a loved one with special needs.
  3. Pooled Trusts: Managed by non-profit organizations, these trusts pool the resources of many beneficiaries for investment purposes but maintain separate accounts for each beneficiary’s needs.

Benefits of a Special Needs Trust

  1. Maintaining Eligibility for Government Benefits: Assets in an SNT are not counted towards eligibility limits for government assistance programs like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
  2. Providing Financial Security: An SNT ensures that the beneficiary has funds available for their care over and above what government programs provide, without the risk of losing these essential benefits.
  3. Flexibility and Control: Trustees manage SNTs to meet the specific needs of the beneficiary. This includes discretionary spending on education, therapy, personal care attendants, and recreational activities.

Setting Up a Special Needs Trust

Establishing an SNT requires careful legal planning. It’s vital to work with an experienced attorney who understands the complexities of disability law. The process includes:

  1. Choosing the right type of trust based on the individual’s needs and financial situation.
  2. Drafting a trust document that clearly outlines the terms, including the purpose of the trust, the roles and responsibilities of the trustee, and the rights of the beneficiary.
  3. Funding the trust with appropriate assets.


Special Needs Trusts are invaluable tools in planning for the financial well-being of individuals with disabilities. By providing a means to manage assets without affecting eligibility for crucial government benefits, SNTs offer peace of mind and security. If you’re considering setting up a Special Needs Trust, consulting with a skilled attorney at Collins Disability Law can ensure that your trust is established correctly and effectively serves the intended purpose. Remember, every individual’s situation is unique, and a tailored legal approach is essential in special needs planning.