Higgins Special Needs Trusts counsels plaintiffs receiving governmental benefits on the most favorable method of receiving settlement moneys to assure that their financial needs are met. We specialize in structuring receipt of settlement proceeds in a manner that preserves plaintiffs’ eligibility for important government benefits.

What is a special needs trust?

A Special Needs Trust (“SNT”) is a trust that does not count when determining eligibility for Medicaid (or the equivalent state program) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). A SNT is a useful tool for settling plaintiffs who receive significant Medicaid and SSI benefits that must be preserved. By placing settlement proceeds in a SNT, a plaintiff will have funds to pay their extraordinary care expenses and continue to receive their Medicaid and SSI benefits as well.

Who may use a SNT?

In order to be the beneficiary of a SNT, a person must be disabled (as defined under applicable federal and state laws) and under age 65 at the time the SNT is established. Higgins Special Needs Trusts can help you determine if you are disabled within the meaning of the law.

How may SNT funds be spent?

Generally, funds held in a SNT may be spent for supplemental expenses of the beneficiary other than food or shelter. For example, funds in a SNT may be spent for any of the following supplemental needs of the beneficiary:
  • Modifications to a residence to provide ease of access or use;
  • Modifications to an automobile or a van;
  • Assistive or therapeutic technology;
  • Social and community outreach programs including gym, museum or zoo memberships, club dues, advocacy groups;
  • Educational expenses including tuition, equipment and supplies (academic or recreational);
  • Non-food grocery items (personal hygiene products, cleaning supplies, paper goods, over the counter medications);
  • Personal assistance and/or house cleaning services;
  • Computers, software and internet access;
  • Court costs, legal fees, professional services;
  • Pets, pet supplies and veterinary services;
  • Appliances and related repair services;
  • Entertainment expenses including concerts or sporting event tickets for the beneficiary and a companion;
  • Dental work;
  • Insurance; and
  • Elective surgery.

How is a SNT established?

A SNT may be established on behalf of a disabled person by a parent, grandparent, legal guardian or a Court. The person establishing the SNT must petition the Court and appear at a hearing at which the Court will review the terms of the SNT. If acceptable, the Court will approve the establishment of the SNT. Higgins Special Needs Trusts specializes in the formation of SNTs and can draft your SNT in compliance with applicable laws to assure the maximum probability of Court approval.

How is a SNT administered?

A SNT is administered by a trustee that may be a family member, trusted friend or an institution such as a bank. Banks typically have minimum deposit requirements but provide a broad range of advice that individual trustees are not equipped to provide. The trustee should be someone who can make investments, pay bills, keep accounts, and prepare tax returns or who can hire the appropriate professionals to provide those services.

The Court that approves formation of the SNT will continue to exercise jurisdiction over the SNT for so long as it is in existence. The Court will require the trustee to file annual accountings setting forth the earnings on, deposits to and withdrawals from the SNT to ensure that it is being managed responsibly. While a family-member trustee may be the most trustworthy option, the investment, accounting and tax services required of a trustee can be overwhelming for most people. Higgins Special Needs Trusts will arrange for and oversee prudent investing, perform the annual accounting and file tax returns on behalf of the trustee to relieve family members of those burdens.

What happens to the assets in a SNT after the beneficiary dies?

Federal law requires that upon the death of a beneficiary of a SNT, the state be repaid from amounts remaining in the SNT up to an amount equal to the total medical assistance paid on behalf of the beneficiary under the state Medicaid plan. The repayment to the state is only required to be made from funds remaining in the SNT after the beneficiary’s death, however. Careful planning by experienced professionals such as Higgins Special Needs Trusts can maximize distributions to the beneficiary enhancing quality of life during the beneficiary’s lifetime and minimizing the repayment amount.