EPISODE 7 -How to sow the seeds of special needs trusts – April 1, 2022

Special needs trusts are a smart idea, yet everyone should first understand what they can and cannot pay. Hear specific examples and stories of what special needs trusts can be used to pay for beneficiaries, as well as encouragement from Bart, the voice of the Choose Your Path podcast.


Greetings! From our studio in Middle Tennessee, 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.

Last month we talked about springing into action. This month we are discussing sowing the seeds of special needs trusts. In this episode in particular, we are discussing how a special needs trust may be used. It may sound like a good idea and you may go ahead and establish one for your loved one. If you don’t know how to use a special needs trust, you may not receive the full benefit it has to offer. 

Special Needs Trusts are smart, loving actions  you can take to benefit your loved one living with a disability. It can be easy to think “Oh, I need to do that, too.” But, pause for just a moment and consider these questions. What does a special needs trust do? What types of items or services can be paid from the trust? And, are there items or services the trust cannot be used to pay? Let me break it down for you.

First, a special needs trust belongs to its beneficiary. The beneficiary is your loved one, or it can be you, who is living with a physical, mental or intellectual disability or has special needs. Therefore, it can only be used for its beneficiary. The special needs trust can be established at any point in the beneficiary’s life. This includes someone who is three years old, thirty-three or ninety-three years old! Plus, it can be used as soon as it’s established, even though many people establish a special needs trust with only the future in mind. That’s perfectly fine, too! It is your choice.

What is a special needs trust usually used to pay? Only those items and services which directly benefit its beneficiary. A Special Needs Trust’s purpose is to increase the beneficiary’s quality of life. One example of an item that can be paid from the trust is non-medical supplies, such as additional bandages, wheelchair ramps, grab bars, and non-prescription items. Another example of what a special needs trust can pay for is entertainment for the beneficiary. This could be movie tickets, concert tickets, broadway show tickets, theme park tickets and sporting event tickets. One of the primary services a beneficiary uses his or her trust for is non-medical home care. Now, you might be thinking “how do these items apply to your beneficiary”. Every beneficiary has different needs. What does your beneficiary need now? Or, what  might he or she need in the future?

Allow me to give you an example of a beneficiary and how his new special needs trust was used.  A young man, 34 years old, was involved in an accident. From the accident, he became physically disbled. A first party special needs trust was established and held the money from the lawsuit settlement, for the beneficiary. The man used some of the money in his trust to pay for items that could be added to his home to make it easier for him to get around the home. Items like grab bars were placed in the bathroom and kitchen. A railing was installed on the outside of the home to make entering and departing easier. All the rugs were removed from the home so the man could not slip and fall. A raised toilet seat was installed. A walk-in tub made a world of difference to the man. You see, he couldn’t use his legs to climb in and out of the tub so a walk-in tub was the perfect alternative. The man hired a nonmedical caregiver to come every morning. The caregiver helped him get up, get bathed, get dressed, prepare breakfast and lunch for the man, and took him on his daily walk – providing stability as they walked around the neighborhood.

Did this man’s special needs trust make a difference in his life? Oh, most definitely. It made a positive difference. It allowed the man to remain in his home. That’s where he wanted to be, stay safe and to live his life. Although he’s now living with a disability, his quality of life is very good. He’s living the way that he wanted. 

Another story of how special needs trusts is used began with Janice, a 23-year-old woman who enjoyed camping. Janice’s illness, multiple sclerosis, prompted her family to establish a third-party supplemental needs trust with the money that they gifted her. Before I continue, let me explain that all names and identifying details are changed to protect everybody’s privacy. Janice’s parents, sisters, brothers, relatives all gave Janice monetary gifts. The money went directly into her trust. Janice used the special needs trust money to hire a non-medical caregiver. Just like in my previous story, Janice’s caregiver provided assistance to make her life much more manageable on a day-to-day basis. Janice had a boyfriend who was there for her in every way. He wanted to take her camping like they used to do. Using the trust money, Janice was able to purchase some items that would help her with her camping. She bought a port-a-potty, a larger tent which gave her more room to stretch out and do her exercises every morning. A cooking stand was purchased to allow Janice to prepare food for the grill, clean the fish she caught and do the dishes. All of these items were considered vacation and entertainment for Janice. You should have been in our office the day Janice and her boyfriend came in and showed us the pictures from their first camping trip. Since the third-party supplemental needs trust was established, they were so happy!

You know to this day, Janice’s family continues to add money to her third-party supplemental trust, on birthday and Christmas. This additional money gives Janice the ability to continue living a good quality of life.

What do you hear in these stories which could apply to your loved one’s story? Remember each special needs trust is set up specifically for that beneficiary. Take the time to consider what, where and how special needs trusts would benefit your loved one living with a disability.

You know, sometimes families and close friends ask each other questions to help them think through the  needs and the possibilities since there’s so much in the future that’s unknown. A few of these questions are:

-How will your loved one’s physical and mental health change in 5, 10, 20 or even 30 years?

-How does aging affect your loved one, the disability he or she has and the other aspects in life?

-How will medications or physical equipment, such as special wheelchairs or therapies not invented yet, impact your loved one?

-How could changing economics impact your loved one’s quality of life? With their daily activities? With the financial means to pay for care?

I encourage you to think about additional questions to ask yourself, your family members and those who are closest to your loved one. There’s no wrong questions. Just do a little digging. The more you consider, the better off your loved one will be.

As you answer the questions and talk with anyone about this, be as specific and detailed as you can! You may have a general idea but, take it further. Indulge me! Since we’re in springtime, I suggest that you dig deeper! Plant seeds with family members in your conversations about the special needs trusts. Weed out the definite no’s. Nurture the ideas that seem realistic and applicable for your loved ones!

In many ways,  the possibilities of the special needs trust are as large as the needs of your loved one! After all, it’s springtime, flowers are blooming, grass is growing, the sun’s shining! Yet there’s also predictable storms to plan for or plan around.

You know, did you catch my suggestion about the weed out the no’s? No? You missed that? Well, now is the time. Let’s get specific about what special trusts are not:

-They are not transferable. A special needs trust is irrevocable. After it’s established, the trust remains through the life of the beneficiary or until the money is used.

-They do not fund food, housing and medications that’s funded by the government.

-They can only be used to improve the quality of life of the beneficiary. No gifts to others or to organizations can be made from the special needs trust.

-Let me give you an example. The special needs trust can pay for cable TV, internet, phone service.

-It can be used for entertainment, including electronics. You know, one of the first things that people ask for when their trust is established is a 60 inch flat screen TV! If the beneficiary’s accommodations can accept that large a TV, it is purchased for them.

-They can be used for vacations (and for their required care partner to go along too). Just as in the story of Janice, camping is considered a vacation and entertainment. Many beneficiaries like to go to Disney World, just like they did years before. Some like to go to the beach, enjoy the sun and the sand. No matter what the beneficiary wants to go, the trustee will work with the beneficiary to make that happen, if it’s possible.

This is a bunch of information, isn’t it? I think so. Let it sink in. You have time. I encourage you to discuss how your loved one who is living with a disability and is the beneficiary of the special needs trust, can benefit and improve his or her quality of life. Think and talk about what he or wants or needs. Write down every idea. Write down the specifics as well as the feelings found through financial stability a special needs trust can provide. 

Talk with your loved ones now, and again a few days or weeks from now. Your ability to communicate these details to your attorney and professional team will help you make better decisions for the beneficiary. If you don’t have an attorney, Vista Points can help with that too. The organization has a national resource center. The staff there can refer you to a qualified attorney in your area. 

Once you’ve created your list of what you want it to achieve with a special needs trust, you’ll be ready to conduct a productive conversation with your legal and professional team! They will be better equipped to provide a financially predictable future for your loved one!

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

This podcast is one way we create awareness and provide education about special needs trusts. But, we best serve you when we hear your questions. We encourage you ask questions, share your concerns. And, I’d like to thank the subscribers and listeners that have done that so far. You know, you can easily do this through Facebook. Direct message VistaPointsInc, that’s Vista-Points-I-N-C, or look for our Facebook page with the same name, VistaPointsInc.

As we mentioned before, you can spring into action by calling 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 information on April 15th when we will discuss more about sowing the seeds for your loved one with a special needs trust. Or, look into past episodes of Choose Your Path. Regardless of where you find us, we walk beside you on your path. I look forward to our next steps together and talking with you soon.