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Choosing a Trustee for a Special Needs Trust

June 25, 2024

Who Should Be the Trustee of a Third-Party Special Needs Trust?

When establishing a third-party special needs trust, one of the most critical decisions you'll make is choosing the trustee. The trustee will manage the trust assets, ensure that the beneficiary's needs are met, and navigate the complex regulations surrounding government aid. In this article, we will explore the key responsibilities of a trustee, the pros and cons of professional versus family trustees, the legal considerations involved, and the long-term impact of this decision.

Understanding Trustee Responsibilities

Managing Trust Assets

The trustee is responsible for managing the assets held in the trust. This includes investing the assets wisely, ensuring they grow and are preserved for the future. A trustee must be knowledgeable about financial management or have access to professional advice to make informed decisions.

Making Distributions

Another crucial responsibility is making distributions to the beneficiary. The trustee must ensure that distributions align with the terms of the trust and do not jeopardize the beneficiary's eligibility for government aid programs such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid. This requires a thorough understanding of the rules governing these programs.

Special Needs Trust

Ensuring Beneficiary's Needs Are Met

The trustee must balance the need to preserve trust assets with the need to provide for the beneficiary's current and future needs. This includes paying for medical expenses, education, housing, and other necessities that enhance the beneficiary's quality of life.

Professional vs Family Trustee

Family Trustee

Appointing a family member as the trustee has several advantages. Family members are often more familiar with the beneficiary's needs and preferences, which can make them more compassionate and understanding trustees. They may also be more willing to serve without compensation, which can preserve trust assets.

However, there are downsides to consider. Family members may lack the financial and legal expertise required to manage the trust effectively. They may also face conflicts of interest or emotional stress from managing the trust, especially if they are already involved in caregiving.

Professional Trustee

A professional trustee, such as a lawyer, bank, or trust company, brings expertise in managing trust assets and navigating legal requirements. Professional trustees can provide a high level of impartiality and are less likely to face conflicts of interest. They also offer continuity, ensuring the trust is managed consistently over time.

The main drawback of professional trustees is cost. They typically charge fees for their services, which can be a percentage of the trust assets or a flat fee. Additionally, they may not have the same personal connection to the beneficiary as a family member would.

Legal Considerations

Legal Responsibilities

Trustees have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the beneficiary. This means they must manage the trust assets prudently, avoid conflicts of interest, and comply with the terms of the trust. Trustees can be held legally liable for any breach of these duties.

Potential Liabilities

Serving as a trustee involves potential legal liabilities. If the trustee mismanages the trust assets or fails to comply with legal requirements, they can be sued by the beneficiaries or other interested parties. It is crucial for trustees to understand these risks and seek professional advice if necessary.

Long-Term Impact

Beneficiary's Welfare

The choice of trustee has a profound impact on the long-term welfare of the beneficiary. A well-chosen trustee can ensure that the beneficiary's needs are met without jeopardizing their eligibility for government aid. They can also provide stability and continuity, which are essential for the beneficiary's peace of mind.

Trust's Ability to Meet Its Purpose

A trustee's ability to manage the trust effectively will determine whether the trust can meet its intended purpose. This includes preserving assets for the beneficiary's lifetime, making appropriate distributions, and adapting to changes in the beneficiary's needs and circumstances.

Choosing the right trustee for a third-party special needs trust is a decision that requires careful consideration. It involves balancing the need for expertise and impartiality with the personal connection and understanding that a family member can provide. At Anderson, Dorn & Rader Ltd., we are here to help you navigate this complex process and ensure that your loved one's future is secure. Contact us to schedule a consultation and discuss how to set up a special needs trust with the appropriate trustee.

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