EPISODE 10 – When to memorialize an adult through a special needs trust – May 15, 2022

When is it too late to establish a special needs trust? Does a special needs trust beneficiary have to be a relative? Listen to Bart share his story and more about planning and establishing special needs trusts.


Greetings from our Middle Tennessee studio…welcome to today’s Vista Points podcast, “Choose Your Path”, where the Vista Points’ staff are committed to improving the quality of life for people living with a disability.

Vista Points provides professional trustee services and education regarding special needs trusts. The organization partners with a variety of nonprofit and for-profit entities to better the lives of those living with physical, mental or intellectual disabilities.

I’m Bart, your podcast host. In previous episodes, we introduced special needs trusts through stories of people and relationships that develop, and how special needs trusts impacted their lives.

Whether you are one of our avid listeners or just checking us out today, you may understand the basics of a special needs trust. Today, we begin to dig deeper into the specific topics. I will speak on the topic of  commemorating a loved one with the gift of a special needs trust. So, …let’s get started!

One concern some have about beginning a special needs trust is “when is it too late?”

After all, timing is important in life. But when it comes to a special needs trust – do not worry. A special needs trust is for any person of any age with physical, mental or intellectual disability.

A 92-year-old woman inherited a substantial amount of money from a close relative. The money was deposited into a third-party special needs trust, since the money was “gifted” to her. This type of trust does not have a Medicaid-payback. All the money in the special needs trust is a gift to the beneficiary.  

Let me stop here to mention that the term “beneficiary” means a person living with a disability, in trust terms. 

Now, back to my story. 

The trustee met and worked with the woman to make sure she was living a good quality of life. The trustee also explained to the woman that she could use this money for just about anything except expenses related to housing and food. The woman understood, but she would not spend a penny of her trust money.

For two years the trustee asked the woman what she would like and how she would like to use the money. Every time she was asked, the money said, woman said she wanted to leave the money in the trust.  

Finally, the trustee received an answer as to why the woman would not spend any of her trust money.  She told the trustee she was saving the money for “her old age”! Now, you might find this amusing, as I did, but it was the truth.

The woman, now 94, decided she would use some of her trust money. She ended up having cataract surgery on both eyes, having a hearing exam and getting new hearing aids, redecorating her nursing home in ALL purple – that’s a purple bedspread, purple pillows, purple flowers, purple rug, purple nightgown. She was SO happy!

This woman lived three more years and in those years she told the trustee these were some of the best years of her life. You see, her life changed when she used that trust money. It changed for the better.  

In contrast, many people think about starting any type of financial support for a loved one only when the child is a minor. Although a family member can establish a third-party special needs trust when their child is very young, or this type of trust can be established when the family member’s of ANY age. 

There was a couple whose son was turning 21 years of age. They called the local trust company to see if they were too late to establish a third-party special needs trust for their son. They thought that because he was an adult – 21 years old – this could not be done. Luckily for them, the trustee was able to explain the rules related to this type of trust, the benefits of having a special needs trust and what the son could potentially lose if no trust was established. The couple were relieved. They immediately met with an estate-planning attorney and established a third-party supplemental needs trust for their son. They deposited money into the trust that the son could use now. They also had written into their will that the son’s inheritance would be deposited into this trust for future use. 

Missing out on an opportunity is one thing. Waiting too late for a life-impacting decision is another. It’s a real concern. How often has someone waited until it was too late to purchase the insurance which would have saved them time, energy and money? How often has each of us said “I’ve got to get that done” and then not followed through? Then, to make matters worse, to realize it would have made a real difference for our loved one or our family, if only we’d moved forward?

Let me share a Bart story with you. After retiring from the automotive industry, I moved to the Nashville area to continue my life as a contract corporate trainer and to purchase a home. After purchasing the property, I thought it would be a good idea to put life insurance policy in place for the replacement amount or for the payoff if something happened and I departed. I was sure it was a good idea to put financial tools in place, just in case. I ho-hummed around and I put it off and I put it off. And things were going along pretty well until I was diagnosed with cancer. That just derailed me for a bit. Now I did beat cancer. But at my age and with my condition (being a cancer survivor) I no longer qualified for any kind of life insurance. Whoops!

I encourage you to follow through. Take action. Call someone today –  someone in your family, a trust officer or an attorney, to discuss the idea to include a special needs trust for your loved one in your will or establish it now. The professionals will guide through the process. It’s an incredibly thoughtful gift, but it requires attention to detail and following the laws. 

I do not want your loved one – or anyone living with a disability – to miss out. I encourage you to educate friends, relatives and others about special needs trusts for people living of any age with a disability or that have special needs. 

You know, they can be family members, friends, church members, co-workers, co-workers’ family members that you’ve never even heard of or perhaps the neighbor everyone rallies around that you think is taken care of.

I live in a neighborhood where I see the metro government van picking up a neighbor periodically. Frankly, I see where the family lives. And I’ve made the snap judgment that they live “well enough”, so they probably have taken care of planning, financially. After all, if I know about special needs trusts, wouldn’t they know, too? But what is it they say? You never know what goes on behind closed doors… I should be the caring neighbor I want to be and mention it next time I see someone in their family.

I wonder how the family would react? Would they be surprised? Would it initiate a conversation or even a friendship? So I ask you, when was it the last time someone told you something impactful? How did it affect you? Did it lessen your stress? Did you sleep better? Did it change any of your decisions? Did it allow you to appreciate someone or something? Or even enjoy life a little more?

I challenge you to think about how any adult living with a disability might feel knowing they are cared for with the help of a special needs trust. The trust would provide him or her financial predictability without fear of losing government benefits. So how would it affect him? Would it lessen her stress? Would it allow him to sleep better? Change any of her decisions? Maybe allow him to appreciate someone or something? Or even enjoy her life a little more? Maybe it would create the space he needs to hold a conversation or for her to develop a closer relationship with a family member. These outcomes sound exactly like what would happen if someone  told you or me information that would benefit us. It is no different for an adult living with a disability. Whether big or small, every possible outcome is good.  

Here is a story of a family who worked together to give one of their relatives a gift of a third-party supplemental needs trust. A family pooled their money that they usually give to a relative, who was living with Down’s Syndrome. They established a third-party supplemental needs trust for her. The initial deposit was $50,000. They all agreed that each year, on the woman’s birthday and at Christmas they would deposit $100 into the trust.  

Upon the establishment of the trust, the woman and her family helped her to move into a lovely group home. The woman found many people her own age and became wonderful friends. The group home manager was exceptional in her care of all of the residents. They had game night, pizza parties, went to the movies, local baseball games, even took short day trips to various places close to the home. The trust fund was used to pay for the woman’s entertainment, decorate her room, purchase clothing, and pay for additional therapies for the woman.

What made this trust so special is that it was able to help the woman with a good quality of life now and into the future. The family had peace of mind knowing their loved one was doing great and very happy.  

This is why we, at Vista Points, are here. We work with and help anyone’s loved one living with a disability, to live a better quality of life,… to live without fear. To live his or her life to the fullest.

You can make this happen for your loved one living with a disability. Take action. Start the trust today or include it in your will. This gift memorializes your loved one. I am sure most of us think this type of trust would be for a family member. But imagine if it’s for a friend, a neighbor, a church member. A little planning, thoughtfulness and love go a long way – whether the person is a family member or not. Let your final words honor your life’s work. Since you have lived serving others, allow the special needs trust to continue your service.

Thank you for listening to today’s episode of Choose Your Path, a Vista Points podcast. Subscribe now on our YouTube channel named Vista Points SNT, that’s S-N-T as special needs trust. There you can subscribe and be notified as the latest episodes go live, which are  the 1st and 15th of every month. 

Each episode creates an awareness and provides education about special needs trusts. You can find past episodes on the Vista Points website at vistapoints.org, as well as a transcription of each podcast. The episode topics are in response to the listeners’ questions! (So, thank you to those of you that have been sending your questions in!) If you haven’t asked your questions yet, we encourage you to ask or share concerns online or over the phone. When you’re online, visit Facebook page named VistaPointsInc and send a direct message, otherwise known as a DM, to VistaPointsInc, that’s Vista-Points-I-N-C. 

Or, you can call the Vista Points office at 888-422-4076. That number is 888-422-4076. Each of the Vista Points team wants to answer your questions and assist you in whatever way they can.

Enjoy your day with your loved one. Come back for more or look into past episodes of Choose Your Path. Regardless of where or when you find us, we walk beside you on your path. I look forward to our next steps together and talking with you soon.