The success of a special needs trust will depend largely on the trustee

The author of an article published on the My Autism Team website discusses an Easter Seal study called "Living with Autism." That study reveals that few parents of children with autism have taken estate planning steps which involve planning for the financial future of their special needs child. The survey showed that only 12 percent of parents of children with autism believed that their children could one day handle their own finances. Nevertheless, only 40 percent of the parents had created a will and four out of five parents had not created a special needs trust. A Met Life survey found that-of caregivers with various special needs children-55 percent of respondents said that they were not sure how to set up lifetime financial assistance for their dependent. Fifty-six percent said they had no idea how to select a trustee for a special needs trust.

Parents of an adult special needs child who are thinking about estate planning often wonder if they need to disinherit the child in order to preserve his or her government benefits. In an article published in the Michigan Probate and Estate Planning Journal it is noted that what many parents of a special needs child fail to realize is that, as part of a carefully designed estate plan, the child's inheritance can go directly into a third-party funded special needs trust.

The American Bar Association observes that assets in a properly drafted special needs trust will preserve a child's eligibility for government benefits yet provide additional assets for the use and benefit of the beneficiary. Indeed, the third-party settled special needs trust generally is the centerpiece of any comprehensive plan intended to benefit an adult special needs child.

Choosing a trustee

Exceptional Parent magazine concludes that the ultimate success of a special needs trust in achieving its objectives depends not only on how well funded the trust is but also on who is selected as trustee. The trustee should be someone who is competent, diligent and a person of integrity. Accordingly, parents establishing a special needs trust must carefully consider who oversees the trust. In addition, they need to make sure that the trust document clearly and unambiguously defines the trustee's authority and how that person can be replaced if necessary. One can select a family member or friend as a trustee or they can select a professional to oversee the trust.

Many people select a family member or friend as the trustee. If you are considering a family member or friend to be a trustee, Exceptional Parent magazine suggests you seek out someone with a "deep and abiding concern" for the welfare of the child and who is trustworthy. Moreover, it is crucial that the person you choose as trustee fully comprehends the extent of what is required of him or her. For example, the person you select needs to realize that they could one day find themselves in a battle with the Social Security Administration or Medicaid which they might find onerous.


The State Bar of Michigan adds that a prospective trustee should be instructed about the importance of keeping meticulous records and documentation in the event they are audited. Moreover, the prospective trustee needs to understand that carelessness could wind up costing the trust beneficiary government benefits.

Seeking legal help

If you have a special needs child and you desire to financially assist the child as part of your estate planning goals, you should contact a Michigan attorney experienced in estate planning.