There are six prominent disabilities in Tennessee.  In adults, 14.4% are disabled. Adult disabilities include being able to ambulate (walk), cognitive (mental capacity), hearing, visual, self-care and independent living. Based on Tennessee statistics, 995,000 of the 6,411,900 individuals of all ages in TN reported one or more disabilities.

Many disabilities are the result of an accident or injury, while others may by related to an illness or disease.  Mental health issues can also be diagnosed as a disability. No matter what the disability is, the person living with the disability is entitled to live a good of a quality of life.  

Joe was driving home from work one afternoon when his car was struck by another car.  The other driver had been texting while driving, not paying attention. The other driver was killed.  The police found the cell phone still in the driver’s hand. The doctors found Joe’s spine had been severed.  He was now paralyzed from his chest down. He was able to use his arms, could talk, and had good mental acuity. 

Joe hired a lawyer to represent him and over the next two years, the lawsuit progressed.  During that time, Joe was deemed disabled, unable to work, unable to walk, and in need of full personal support to perform any activity of daily living. 

Joe’s attorney informed him that he was going to receive $500,000 from the lawsuit settlement.  The attorney continued by stating if Joe accepted this money and deposited it into his bank account, he would not be able to qualify for government assistance to cover his health needs.  Joe would need to pay for all his care and daily needs, then apply for assistance and have a waiting period to qualify. Joe knew there must be an alternative.  

For Joe, and many other people living with a physical, mental or intellectual disability, there is a way, governed by federal law, for a person to accept the money from a lawsuit but instead of receiving the money into their own bank account, they can establish a special needs trust.  Money from the lawsuit can be deposited directly into the special needs trust where it is listed under the beneficiary’s name (person living with a disability) yet not counted as the person’s personal asset.  This allows the beneficiary to qualify for government benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid. The money in the special needs trust can then be used for items or services the beneficiary needs and wants but are not qualified expenses related to SSI and Medicaid. 

Joe did establish a special needs trust for his lawsuit settlement money.  He found a reputable trustee service to manage his trust. The trust company worked with Joe to lay out a plan of what he needed and what he wanted.  Joe now had hope for the future knowing his money would be professionally managed and someone would be looking out for his best interest. Joe was going to live a good quality of life. 

If you would like to learn more about special needs trusts, for people living with a physical, mental or intellectual disability, please contact the Vista Points Special Needs Trusts office at 615-758-4660 or email your questions to


1 2013 Disability Status Report Tennessee

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