EPISODE 28 – Understanding Special Needs Trusts: A Comprehensive Guide – April 15, 2023

Experience the joy of spring with Bart, host of the Choose Your Path podcast. Bart is here to help guide you through understanding and establishing special needs trusts; an important tool for providing financial security for those with disabilities. Get ready to dive into real-life stories and examples as Bart shares his knowledge and helps you prioritize taking the right steps at the right time – so don’t miss out! Tune in now to learn more.


Hello, and welcome to today’s Vista Points podcast, “Choose Your Path”, where the Vista Points’ staff are committed to improving the quality of life for those of any age, who are living with a disability. 

Vista Points serves the community by providing professional trustee services and education about special needs trusts. The organization partners with a variety of nonprofit and corporate 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, what they are, who is involved in their establishment, stories of the people and relationships involved, and how special needs trusts impacted their lives.

In this episode, we are springing into action with special needs trusts! We’re choosing this topic in celebration of March, Brain Injury Awareness Month, World Birth Defects Day, World Tuberculosis Day, World Down Syndrome Day, National Doctor’s Day, the spring season, and the beauty and action it inspires in each of us.

A question you may have is  “Where do I begin?” I’m glad you asked. This is a big question in many ways. I believe the steps to begin are indeed small. Just pick up the phone and talk with someone in the industry who can point you in a productive direction. For example, you could call Vista Points at 888-422-4076. The staff is happy to assist you by listening to your story, answering your questions, and guiding you to the next step! That’s why we created this podcast – to provide you helpful information. In fact, Vista Points encourages you to research other resources to find the best match for your needs. Step one –  prioritize your loved one’s needs, wants, and desired outcomes. Then, pick up the phone and allow experts to listen and help.

Now, let me tell you a story about a past client.  In trust terms, we call the person living with a disability – the beneficiary. This client had a traumatic brain injury. His dream was to drive again, but his injury did not permit this.  As a trustee, there is a fiduciary responsibility, to the beneficiary, to help him live a good quality of life. This trustee came up with an alternative idea.  During a conversation the trustee had with the beneficiary, it was found that what the beneficiary really wanted was to come and go as he pleased.  The trustee arranged for the beneficiary to have a certain credit card that he could use to use Lyft to transport him at any time he wanted.  The credit card was linked to the man’s trust.  There were guidelines the man had to follow and he did.  He was very happy to have some freedom again.  Now, guess where the man liked to go? He would go a couple miles down the road for an ice cream, watch the sun set, and return home. 

Since it’s spring, let’s dig a little deeper! What are your loved one’s needs, wants, and desired outcomes? Parents may want to provide a predictable financial future for their child living with a disability. Of course, much thought goes into this for any child and any parent. Will the child be able to take care of himself on a daily basis? Will she want to work on a part-time or full-time basis? Will he have medical prescription or medical equipment needs throughout his life? Are the needs expected to increase over time? Or will she be able to feed or bathe herself or will she require assistance after you are gone?

Of course, professionals in this industry help you think through all of these questions, predict the finances needed to care for your child , and much more. You don’t need to figure all this out beforehand. Just know it’s part of the process.

A few specifics most of us should consider include those items which we may or may not immediately consider. We may automatically start listing the medications, therapies, surgeries, medical visits or 24/7 help. But remember there are other expenses which will be incurred such as nonmedical care, clothing, transportation, entertainment, and possibly vacations.

After the topic of needs is addressed, talk with your loved one about what he or she wants. Special needs trusts focus on paying for items or services not covered through insurance and government benefits. However, quality of life is recognized as a priority, and the purchase of electronic equipment, such as computers, TVs, and cell phones, and the occasional special request of an item or service,  can be part of the plan.

Here is an example of how a beneficiary used some of his trust money in an interesting way. An older gentleman was residing in a nursing home.  The nursing home would only allow its residents to have 32-inch TVs that were mounted on the wall.  This man had very poor eyesight.  With some convincing from the man’s trust officer, the nursing home allowed the man to have a 60-inch flat screen TV mounted to his wall.  This was such a blessing for him.  Now, he could not only hear the TV programs, he could see them too.  This small gesture of allowing a man to have a large TV changed his life.  He became much more positive. He talked more frequently to other residents.  He came out of his room and had lunch in the dining hall.  He made friends.  His health improved.  He was happy. 

What are your loved ones’ desired outcomes? What does his or her quality of life look like? It is not the same for each person.  Is it living in a certain area of the country because warmer weather is better for an individual’s health? Or maybe the location is closer to medical providers or family members. Or, is another outcome to graduate from high school or college? What does that look like? Quality of life is important. And, it’s within reach. Even after you are gone.

Despite all our thinking and planning – whether with industry experts or not – the first, actionable step is simply to make that first phone call. I encourage the phone, too, as we move into the cyberworld of email. Sure, if your favorite or only way of communicating is via email, then do it. But know, when you talk with someone in the industry, he or she is able to ask you questions and sometimes pick up on additional concerns that may help you during a conversation. I may be getting older and sound like it, but I’ll say it. (I’d much rather talk to someone on the phone than to spend a lot of time texting.)

Our trustee shared a story about someone who called with many questions related to special needs trusts.  She was about to receive a large lawsuit settlement.  She was living with a mental disability.  She knew if she accepted the money from the lawsuit, she may lose her government benefits.  With the help of the trustee, and her attorney, the women established a special needs trust.  The money from the lawsuit was deposited into the trust. The woman used this money for alternative therapies, like acupuncture, massages, and extra therapy.  She was able to regain some of her mobility. With her increased mobility and her go-get-um attitude, she started taking classes.  Within two short years, she graduated with a high school degree.  Six years later, she had earned a bachelor’s degree. Today, she is a counselor for others who are living with a disability.  She states that having purpose in life has given her the will to live and to give back to the community. She is thankful for her special needs trust.  It paid for her schooling.  She also is thankful for the staff who manages her trust.  You see, they listened to her, through the years, when she had fears.  They encouraged her to keep going and pursue her dreams.  Today, she doesn’t let her disability hold her back.  She lives each day to the fullest. 

It’s March, and there are many celebrations this month to bring attention to those living with disabilities, and their loved ones, who care for them. Yet, we each are learning to run in the spring rain! It can be maddening and sometimes surprising or unwanted, but it brings hope. It results in a fresh or refreshed season of life. I’m ready to spring into action! I hope you are, too.

This concludes today’s episode of Choose Your Path, a Vista Points podcast. Subscribe now, to our YouTube channel, to stay up-to-date on the latest episodes, which go live on the 1st and 15th of every month. Or, visit the Vista Points website online at vistapoints.org. You can find all our episodes there, as well as a blog of each podcast, for you to reference. 

This podcast is one way we create awareness and provide education about special needs trusts. But, this is not a one-way street. We encourage you to participate by asking questions. You may submit your questions via our Facebook page. Look for our page at “VistaPointsInc”.

As we mentioned before, you can take your first step by calling the Vista Points office at 888-422-4076. That number again 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 information on March 15th. I look forward to talking with you again.