EPISODE 3 – Heartfelt Moments – Stories of how special needs trusts help people, Part 1 – February 1, 2022

Darlene, the Executive Director of Vista Points joins Bart, the voice of its podcast, to share stories of love, family, and special needs trusts. Hear and feel how these real life examples are the heartfelt moments we all live for – during February and throughout the year.


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.

My name is Bart, and I am your podcast host. In our first episodes, we introduced special needs trusts, what they are and who is involved in their establishment. In this episode, and in celebration of February and Valentine’s Day, we are sharing heartfelt stories of how special needs trusts have helped people to live a good quality of life. I am glad to say we will welcome our first special guest on this podcast to share these stories. 

Vista Points created this podcast series – to educate anyone interested in special needs trusts. Throughout this and any of our podcast episodes, we will share stories related to each type of trust.  If we mention a name or a special situation, during the story, rest-assured the name and the situation has been changed to maintain the privacy of the beneficiary.

To make sure we have the same understanding of terms used today, I will share with you a few terms trust officers and attorneys use. A special needs trust belongs to a person of any age who is living with a disability – physical, mental, or intellectual. The special needs trust is established to help the person living with a disability to be able to qualify or maintain government benefits, such as SSI – Social Security Income and Medicaid. The person, no matter what age or disability, he or she may be or have,  is referred to as the “beneficiary.” 

With no further delay, I am happy to introduce our special guest today, Darlene Kemp. She is the Executive Director of Vista Points, the Special Needs Trusts and Resource Center. The organization has three offices across Tennessee, with the headquarters located just outside of Nashville, in Mount Juliet, TN. Darlene has over 40 years experience in the healthcare field.  She has been a part of Vista Points for over 14 years.  During that time, the organization has grown, added more services, and become a leading trust company in Tennessee. 

Bart: Welcome, Darlene. We’re glad you are here today.

Darlene: Hi, Bart. Thank you. I’m glad to be here. You know, it is incredibly exciting to talk about special needs trusts and how they have helped people, especially the beneficiaries and their families.

Bart: To start us off today, I’d like to ask you a question about terminology. Why is using the term “a disabled person” not used by Vista Points? It seems to be a practical term to use when talking about special needs trusts.

Darlene with answer:

That’s a good question, Bart.  When a person is called “disabled”, it labels them in a negative manner.  The alternative, and much more positive, is to say “a person living with a disability”.  The terminology does not label the person, only the condition. 

Bart: I like it! That makes sense. I like the thinking that went into it, too. Then, to put this into practice, we have a question, from a mother of a child living with a disability. 

The question is, “My son has profound autism. He doesn’t speak and is extremely sensitive to sound and activity of any kind. He is twelve. Is a special needs trust a possibility for him now or in the future?” How do you answer this parent?

Darlene with answer:

My answer is, “it depends”.  You see, there are three different types of special needs trusts a beneficiary can have.  For this mother, she may want to establish a third-party supplemental needs trust for her son.  Only money “gifted” to the son can be deposited into this type of trust.  Any family members, friends, etc. can add money to the son’s trust.  The money in the trust can be used immediately or saved in the trust until the son is older and then he can use the money to purchase items or services his government benefits do not cover.  All third-party supplemental needs trusts do not have a provision for Medicaid payback. This means that when the beneficiary dies, and after all outstanding bills along with administrative expenses have been paid, any money remaining in the trust will be disbursed to the remainder-beneficiaries.  The trustee locates the remainder-beneficiaries in the trust agreement.  The trustee will contact each remainder-beneficiary to verify the address, then a check will be mailed to each of them. 

Bart: Darlene, that is quite interesting.  It’s so nice that a family can plan ahead for their loved one’s special needs by establishing a third-party supplemental needs trust.  

I’m curious what your response will be to the next question we received.  This situation you probably hear about very often. 

The question is: I spend my time taking care of my family, including my sister-in-law who is the one who needs in-home care, 24/7. Granted, I don’t have to take care of her medical issues. Someone else does that. I feed and bathe her and try to just be with her. But, I can’t take on much more. 

My sister-in-law is about to receive an inheritance from our deceased mother, as I will, also.  I am thinking of putting that money in a special needs trust for my sister-in-law.  What type of trust should I use? What can the trust be used for? Are there any items or services the trust cannot pay for?  Who will manage the trust? 

Darlene with answer

Wow!  First I want to say that you definitely have a lot on your plate.  I do hear questions, such as the caller’s frequently.  I also have a detailed answer. 

Since I am not an attorney, I cannot advise the caller with specific answers.  What I can do is tell the caller and our audience about some general things that can be considered and done to help the sister-in-law with her upcoming financial situation. 

The first step is to contact an attorney who specializes in special needs trusts, estate planning or family law. Our organization has a national referral center whereby we can refer inquiry callers to attorneys in their area, for assistance.  

From what the caller states, and reviewing how the mother’s will is worded, it sounds like a third-party supplemental needs trust will fit the bill for the sister-in-law, the beneficiary.  The caller can serve as the advocate for the beneficiary. 

After the trust is established, it can be used to make purchases or pay for services, such as nonmedical care for the beneficiary.  Having someone else in the home to care for the sister-in-law can give the caller a break, which we call respite.  Even if the caller remains in the home while the non-medical caregiver is there working with the beneficiary, it does give the caller a much-needed break – a time to rest, or to do other things. 

Currently, special needs trusts are not permitted to pay for food or shelter.  It can, however, pay for many other items the beneficiary can appreciate.  This will give the beneficiary a much better quality of life and also allow her to qualify for those government benefits. 

Vista Points is a professional trustee service.  It can manage the third-party special needs trust, for the beneficiary.  By doing so, the family is relieved of the daunting task of keeping up with everything related to the trust.  The trustee will maintain detailed financial records.  These records, along with the balance of the trust, can be shared with the beneficiary and the advocate whenever requested. 

Bart: I did not realize what a needed role a professional trustee, such as Vista Points, plays in all of these special needs trusts.  Thank you, Darlene, for teaching me something today. 

Last but not least today is a question from a family member. It’s interesting to me because sometimes my extended family has a more objective and honest view of what is going on inside my nuclear family. It will be interesting to hear what he asks. 

His question is, “My cousin had a traumatic brain injury when he was in college. He became a different person because of it. He was an athlete going to college on scholarship to be a doctor. Now he stocks shelves a few hours a day, each week. We’re so proud of him and what he is able to do. Is a special needs trust a possibility since he is able to function somewhat on his own? 

Darlene with answer:  

Thank you for this question.  There is a lot more information an attorney would need before a precise answer could be given.  Yet, generally speaking, if the cousin is receiving government benefits, such as SSI and Medicaid, and has personal assets over $2,000, a special needs trust may be exactly what the cousin needs. 

Bart: That’s great advice, Darlene!  

Now, do you have a story you could share with us today as we prepare for Valentine’s Day? Does a particular story stay with you or act as a guiding light for you?

Darlene with answer:  

Well, as a matter of fact, I do have a touching story I will share with you.  

A client was on vacation and contracted bed bugs while staying at a hotel.  After he returned home, these tiny pesks jumped out of his suitcase and infested his entire home.  Now, this didn’t happen overnight.  The client was embarrassed to tell the trustee of his circumstance, so he kept it quiet for a few months until the situation became unbearable. 

The client did finally tell his trustee that he needed help.  The trustee jumped into action.  Specialized pest control was used by a professional company, to rid the client’s home of the bedbugs.  The infestation was so bad that much of the furniture had to be thrown away.  The client’s trust was used to pay for the pest service and to purchase new items for the client’s use.  It took three times of treatment for all of the bedbugs to be eradicated.  

Now the client is very happy.  He has a clean home.  He is not being bit anymore by those pesky bedbugs, and he has new furniture.  He also has learned to call his trustee at the first sign of trouble.  

Bart: Now, that is a story with a happy ending. It kind of made me itchy too.  

Of course special needs trusts are important. People living with a disability are the core of every story and experience. To understand how special needs trusts have helped people, makes all the difference for me. Like I’ve said before, special needs trusts are intricate and complex, and there are rules and laws for special needs trusts. So the important thing is to understand what special needs trusts are and how they help beneficiaries. 

As we come to the end of this episode, I am glad to preview future podcast episodes which go live on the 1st and 15th of every month. This is the first of two episodes in February, so we will continue sharing Heartfelt Moments of how special needs trusts have helped people. You or your loved one may relate to one or more of the stories. Or, these stories may inspire you to share your own stories!

This concludes today’s episode of Choose Your Path, a Vista Points podcast. Subscribe now 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. You can also call the Vista Points office at 888-422-4076. That number again is 888-422-4076.  Enjoy your day with your loved one. Come back for more information when you are ready. I look forward to talking with you again.

Each of the Vista Points team is here to answer your questions and assist you in whatever way they can. This podcast is one way we create awareness and provide education about special needs trusts. But as we’ve seen today, this is not a one-way street. We encourage you to participate by asking questions. You may submit your questions via our Facebook page.