EPISODE 8 – The professional team for special needs trusts – April 15, 2022

A professional team is needed to start a special needs trust. Hear who is involved and how they contribute for the beneficiary to benefit from a special needs trust.


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 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, stories of the people and relationships involved, and how special needs trusts impacted their lives. Today I want to talk about those involved in the establishment of special needs trusts.

If you’re considering establishing using a special needs trust, you already know “your why” – to maintain or improve the quality of life for your loved one living with a disability. That disability could be physical, mental or intellectual… or it could be child living with the special needs. Maybe you’re the one living with a disability! Well, this person is the focal point; the reason for having a special needs trust.  

You may already know enough to know that you want to do this! Yet, you may have questions about the professional team I’ve referenced in  previous episodes. This team of professionals supports and guides the beneficiary (that is the person living with the disability) through the  establishment and the execution of a special needs trust.

So, your question might be, “Who are these professionals? How do you find them? What do they actually do?”

There’s two primary professionals you work with as you prepare and establish your special needs trust  –  an attorney who specializes your subject circumstance and a trustee who knows the special needs trust industry along with the rules, regulations and laws concerning special needs trusts and who acts as a guide for you and your attorney. These two professionals, along with the beneficiary, make up the special needs trust team.

The first sounds the most daunting of the two, right? The attorney. So where do you start? Is it Uncle Ned, the real estate lawyer? Uh, no. That may seem like a step in the right direction, but the attorney needs to specialize in Estate Planning and Trusts, Elder Law and/or Family Law depending on the beneficiary’s needs. Legally and technically Uncle Ned might create the special needs trust, but all too often Uncle Ned ends up creating a potential mess for the beneficiary and every loved one involved more than he ever intended – even with the best of intentions.

Let me share a story with you, as an example of how although a well-meaning attorney can make an error that can affect the beneficiary’s special needs trust. An attorney met with a group of adult children. There were four of the eight children of their mother, who was to receive a lawsuit settlement. Their mother was disabled. The mother’s attorney told the children and the mother that the lawsuit money needed to be placed in a special needs trust, so the mother would not lose her government benefits, which were SSI and Medicaid. The attorney explained to the family that the money in the special needs trust could only be used for their mother’s benefit. This is where the problem started. 

The attorney asked for one of the children to step up and serve as an attorney-in-fact (this is what we call the responsibility in terms of special needs trusts, the attorney-in-fact) for their mother. Not one adult child wanted the responsibility. The attorney then offered a suggestion to entice one child to serve. He stated that if one child would serve as attorney-in-fact, he would make a request for the trust to buy him or her a brand new automobile. When that offer was made, all eight children wanted the attorney-in-fact.

Boy, what a mess! The attorney knew that maybe he had made an offer that could not be fulfilled, so he called the special needs trust trustee to talk this over and find a solution. After all, he was trying to help his client, but things got complicated. The trustee offered to speak to the adult children.  The rules of the special needs trust were explained to all of them. The trustee then told the adult children that because of these rules, none of them could get a brand new car using the trust money. 

Now, what do you think happened? Well, you guessed it! All the children refused to serve as attorney-in-fact. They left their mother high and dry.  The trustee then asked the attorney if there were any other family members that the mother has that could serve in this capacity. The attorney found a cousin who was very willing to help out. The special needs trust was established. The mother was able to live a good quality of life, using her money in the special needs trust.  

One thing I left out in this story that I want to let you know. The mother never found out how greedy her children were, nor did she find out that none of them would serve as attorney-in-fact. For the remainder of her years, the cousin was by her side.

We do not want this to happen to you and we can help you avoid it. Find a specialized attorney who understands what the beneficiary is entering into. The basics are knowing federal Social Security programs, eligibility requirements; Social Security Disability Insurance, Medicare,Medicaid and the Americans Disabilities Act, also known as ADA.

Plus, this attorney should be independent. What do I mean by this? The attorney should probably not be a family member. Why, you ask? This is to ensure there is no conflict of interest when holding discussions and making decisions for the beneficiary. After all, it can be too easy for a firm’s clients to overreach and impact an attorney’s decision. Therefore, an independent  attorney brings of a more an objective perspective, along with dedication to serve individuals living with disabilities.

The second part of your professional team is your special needs trust trustee. This trustee is your guide. The trustee should walk with you throughout the entire life of the trust. Think of guides in other areas of your life. They talk to you, find out what you need or want, then they walk with you to explore what to do, what you have in mind. Sometimes they lead, other times you lead. They know the lay of the land inside and out and as a result, can easily suggest and select the sources and resources and opportunities best suited for you. These trusted guides are a partner, confidante, leader and support. This is your trustee. 

Vista Points is an example of a professional trustee service that guides. They have a national resource center to recommend qualified attorneys uniquely suited to the beneficiary. There’s other resources of course – both for-profit and nonprofit organizations that Vista Points can refer you to. We are using VistaPoints as an example for you to understand the bigger picture. This professional guide talks with you, finds out what the beneficiary needs or want, and then walks the path along with the beneficiary and you.

Many times, the beneficiary and his or her family do not know where to turn for assistance. After a special needs trust is established, the trustee and the staff work one-on-one with the beneficiary and the family to determine what is needed first, then talk about what are the desires and dreams.  Many families ask for nonmedical caregiving to help with the day-to-day tasks associated with beneficiary needs. This allows the caregiver in home to have some respite time – a time to rest and relax while someone else takes care of the beneficiary.

Often, the trustee finds that the beneficiary has not seen a dentist, an eye doctor or even a medical doctor in many years. The trustee can schedule these appointments and arrange transportation. A family member may accompany the beneficiary to those appointments.  

Allow me to give you another example of a beneficiary who is now living a good quality of life, due to the trustee meeting with the family, scheduling appointments, purchasing various items for the beneficiary and following up on the outcomes. A young man was living with mild cognitive issues. He was 42 but operated on about a 17 year old level. The man had not been to the dentist in eight years. His mother did not know when he had ever seen an eye doctor. The trustee talked about how important it was to maintain good health and offered to schedule appointments.

On the day of the dental exam, the young man was so nervous he wanted to cancel his appointment. Luckily, the trustee had scheduled a case manager, which the man knew, to accompany him to the dental appointment. Everything went very well. The young man had teeth cleaned, two cavities filled. The dentist gave him a toothbrush and toothpaste. He also showed the young man how to use dental floss. The young man was so excited to have gone to the dentist, he couldn’t wait to get home and tell his mother. This encouraged his mother to also go to the dentist. It had been 12 years since the mother had gone the dentist. She did need some extra dental care but she said it was worth it. They both now have very beautiful smiles.

Now, every beneficiary and every situation is different. Because of this, everyone’s story and experience are also different. I want you to have the most successful experience possible.

I enjoy these positive stories! I want your success stories to be shared here. Which, by the way, you can share with us anytime via Facebook.  Now’s the time to think about all this. Let it sink in. Who is your beneficiary’s professional guide? Who is your attorney? Do you plan for the professional guide, the trustee, to refer you to an attorney?

Once you’ve found an attorney, then what? Well, I suggest that you listen to April 1st podcast episode of Choose Your Path to help you brainstorm a list of what the beneficiary wants to achieve with a special needs trust. You’ll then be ready to conduct a productive conversation with your professional team! They will be ready and better equipped to provide financially predictable future for your loved one.

Thank you for listening to today’s episode of Choose Your Path, a Vista Points podcast. Subscribe now, to our YouTube channel, 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 at vistapoints.org. You can find all our episodes there as well as a blog of each podcast for your reference. 

Each episode creates awareness, provides education about special needs trusts. Most of them answer your questions! (Who, by the way, thank you for your subscribers’ and listeners’ questions that you’ve already sent in!) And if you haven’t asked yours yet, we encourage you to ask questions or simply share your concerns online or over the phone. If online, via Facebook page named VistaPointsInc and send a direct message to VistaPointsInc, that’s Vista-Points-I-N-C.

Or, 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 in May when we will discuss memorializing a loved one through the use of special needs trusts. 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.