EPISODE 22 – Understanding Special Needs Trusts for New Year’s Resolutions and Goals – January 1, 2023


What are special needs trusts? What are specifics a special needs trust pays for? What makes a person a good candidate for a special needs trust? Listen as Bart, the host for the Vista Points podcast named Choose Your Path, interviews Darlene Kemp with Vista Points who shares explanations, specifics and answers anyone interested in special needs trusts needs to understand.


Happy New Year!

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

I’m Bart, your podcast host. My role is to walk with you on this journey of discovering and using special needs trusts. If you’re listening to this podcast online, I want you to make the most of your experience. If you are interested in using closed captioning, you can turn it on by clicking C-C in the shadowed box on the video screen.

We address a variety of topics in this podcast related to the use of special needs trusts. Today, we have our Vista Points Executive Director, Miss Darlene Kemp, with us. Darlene and her staff serve people living with disabilities, chronic illnesses who have special needs. They accomplish this by serving as the trustee of special needs trusts.

Bart: I am happy you could join us today for the first podcast broadcast in 2023. Welcome, Darlene. 

Darlene:  Hi Bart. Happy New Year to you! 

Bart:  I’d like you to share with our listening audience a little bit about yourself. 

Darlene: I’d be happy to, Bart. As you said, I’m the Executive Director of Vista Points – the Special Needs Trusts and Resource Center. I’ve been with the company 16 years now. Boy, that’s hard to believe. That time has flown by! I have a passion for working with people who are living with a disability. I enjoy also working with professionals such as attorneys, and case managers, social workers and other professionals. After all, we all want to help our clients live a good quality of life.

Bart: Darlene, knowing you first-hand, I’m impressed and glad you chose to serve people living with a disability. I see how you make a difference every day.

Darlene:  Thanks, Bart. I genuinely believe I am living my goal of having a servant’s heart and using it to make this world a better place.

Bart: Darlene, please tell us about Vista Points. 

Darlene: Vista Points was founded in the year 2000. Many times, people ask me what the name “Vista Points” means. I’d like to explain that to you. A Vista is a vast landscape. Think of yourself viewing a mountain range or standing on the beach looking out over the ocean. That’s a vista. For people, their vista could be their disability and what they see for themselves. It’s vast, and it can be overwhelming.

Our company takes that overwhelming vista and brings it into the “point” where we can work one-on-one with our clients and his or her family or caregiver. So, there you have it. Vista Points takes something big – the vista – and guides the clients, our beneficiaries, to the point! Our goal is to provide the best quality, trustee service while helping the beneficiary live a good quality of life. We also want to give the family peace of mind, knowing their loved one is receiving good quality of care through the use of the special need trust funds.

Bart: That makes sense, and it’s quite a creative story. Now, we’ve received some questions from our listeners. I’d like you to answer these questions. Are you up for this?  

Darlene: Oh, yes. I’m up for the challenge. 

Bart: I think we should begin with the basic question of “What is a special needs trust”?  

Darlene: Well, special needs trusts are used to safeguard personal assets. They help to maintain quality of life and provide for the comforts of life that government benefits do not cover – it’s all done without jeopardizing eligibility for government assistance.

Bart: Is a special needs trust something that the government invented? 

Darlene: Well, a Special Needs Trust is a legal contract under Federal law in which someone (called a “trustee”) agrees to hold assets (which are money or property) for the benefit of a person living with a disability. This type of Trust provides available financial resources to pay for items or services government benefits do not cover. Trust funds can be used to pay for non-essential items and services such as companion care; entertainment; educational classes; additional therapy; alternative therapies such as chiropractic care, massage and warm-water therapy; electronic equipment and some medications, just to name a few!

Bart: That’s quite a list! What can Vista Points do to help a person who calls and they have a question about qualifying for a special needs trust? It might be for a family member or it might be for them.   

Darlene: Vista Points can connect you to the resources you need to establish a Special Needs Trust tailored specifically to your situation. This type of Trust may aid in the establishment or continuation of the government benefits. A Special Needs Trust relieves the burden placed on family members and caregivers. The trust funds are carefully managed by professional and experienced trustees. And, in certain situations, family members and friends may receive an inheritance upon the death of the beneficiary.

Bart: Okay. We received a question from an attorney who is beginning to work in the field of special needs. And, he asked the following question. “What makes my client a good candidate for a special needs trust?”

Darlene:  I can answer that question and expand on it a bit. For the attorney and others, your client may be a good candidate for a Special Needs Trust if he or she is disabled and has experienced any of the following situations, such as a Financial Windfall.

Inheritances and gifts can jeopardize eligibility for government benefits, and this will force the person living with a disability to use those assets to finance all needed health-related and living expenses.

Assets received in divorce settlements can disqualify a person living with a disability from government benefits. And, many people live with a disability caused by an accident or injury. A personal injury settlement may disqualify a person from the government benefits they need. 

Bart: Wow, that’s helpful to know. This brings me to my next question. Are there age limits for special needs trusts or does a person have to have a special type of disability to qualify for a special needs trust?

Darlene: Well, a person of any age can qualify for a special needs trust if the person is living with a physical, mental or intellectual disability. And, for children, we call it special needs.

There are three types of special needs trusts. And, when someone calls our office, we will listen to their concerns and address their questions. Although we are not attorneys, we can let them know if they should consider establishing a special needs trust. We then will refer them to specialized attorneys in their area. There is a lot more to this, but I believe that covers the overall aspect of your question. I encourage your listeners to call our office. The staff will be happy to answer their questions in more detail.

Bart: That’s good, Darlene. And, I’ll be giving that number to call your office shortly. But tell me, how can a beneficiary’s special trust be used?

Darlene: Well, the money can be used for the beneficiary’s “special needs.” For that reason, the term “special needs trusts” has been coined to describe these types of trusts. Another term that has been used is “supplemental needs trust.” Generally speaking, trust money can be used to purchase any goods or services that SSI (Supplemental Security Income) or Medicaid does not pay for — typically, these are non-support items that are other than their essential – medical care, food and shelter.

There are many possibilities for how the trust money can be used, but there are also guidelines that must be followed so not to cause the loss of these government benefits. Depending on a person’s age and personal needs, what is needed or desired can vary greatly. Some items or services that may be considered for payment from the trust are electronic equipment, computers, iPads and iPods, nonmedical care, vacations, vehicles, clothing, home remodeling, alternative therapies, massage, cleaning service and medication that is not covered by healthcare or government benefits.

Bart: Okay, let me think about this a minute. You mean a beneficiary can receive government benefits and yet set aside money to pay for amenities like vacations and entertainment? And, the government allows this? What’s the catch?

Darlene: Well, this is true, Bart, and there is a catch. In fact, there are two. First, the trust money no longer belongs to the beneficiary. Once the money is deposited into the trust, the beneficiary cannot change his mind and ask for the money to be returned. The money belongs to the Trust, but it’s held under the beneficiary’s name, and this is required by law.

Second, at the death of the beneficiary, any money that remains in the trust account has to be paid back to the State. It’s call a State Recovery. (This applies to Medicaid benefits only, not SSI benefits.) After “Medicaid payback,” any remaining trust money will be given to persons designated by the beneficiary. There is one type of trust called a third-party supplemental needs trust where money is gifted to the beneficiary. Upon that beneficiary’s death, there is no Medicaid payback. Remaining trust money is distributed to the remainder beneficiaries.

Bart: Wow, thanks for sharing so much with us, Darlene. I’m sure you’re gonna get some phone calls and questions about all that stuff you told us. Do you have any closing information for our listeners?

Darlene: I do, Bart. I’d like to share that sometimes an individual may be chosen to serve as trustee for a family member or friend. Sometimes the individual is appointed by the court. Serving as a trustee of a special needs trust is a difficult job. It may continue for a long time. This can be an overwhelming burden to impose on a family member. Just think. They might be serving as trustee, working a full-time job, have their own family and their outside interests. It’s a lot. A professional trustee, such as Vista Points, provides assurance in the form of trust management by caring professionals who understand a beneficiary’s special needs and know the law applicable to government benefits.

Bart: Wow, there’s a lot of responsibility that goes with being a trustee I hadn’t thought about. Thank you, Darlene. I am so glad you joined us today.

And, thank you to our listeners for tuning in to today’s episode of Choose Your Path, the Vista Points podcast. I encourage you to subscribe to our YouTube channel so you can be notified as our latest episodes go live on the 1st and the 15th of every month. The Vista Points YouTube channel is named Vista Points SNT, that’s S-N-T as in “special needs trust”.

You can also find past podcast episodes on the Vista Points website at vistapoint.org, along with a transcript of each podcast. The website again is vistapoints-dot-O-R-G. 

If you don’t already know, the episode topics are in response to listeners’ questions. If you haven’t asked your question yet, I encourage you to ask or share other concerns online or by calling. When you’re online, visit the Facebook page named Vista-Points-Inc, that’s Vista-Points-I-N-C. 

While there, you can send us a direct message, otherwise known as a D-M, by clicking on the Messenger button. It looks like a sideways lightning bolt. For those who are comfortable, ask your questions via Facebook! 

You are welcome to contact the Vista Points office at 888-422-4076. That number again is 888-422-4076. Each Vista Points team member stands ready to answer your questions and assist you.

Enjoy your day with your loved one. Regardless of where or when you find us, we walk beside you on your path. Our desire is for people, of any age, who are living with a physical, mental or intellectual disability, to have a good quality of life and to give their family peace of mind knowing that Vista Points is looking out for the beneficiary. I look forward to our next steps together and speaking to you soon.