Special Needs Planning

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If you have a disabled loved one- especially if you are the parent of a child with special needs- you already know that you need to educate yourself about the ins and outs of government benefits that he or she receives. Yet equally importantly, you’ll want to learn about the planning options available to ensure that this person not only receives needed benefits, but also that you, your family, and your loved one are all still able to spend your own money pay for care and services that improve your loved one’s quality of life.

If you have a loved one who might benefit from a Special Needs Trust, I can help you establish and properly manage such a trust.


What is special needs planning?

Individuals with disabilities are often outliving their caregivers, and when that occurs, the responsibility for their long-term care falls on other family members or siblings. Without special needs planning, the costs of that care increase dramatically. Lack of proper special needs planning can jeopardize a special needs child and his or her eligibility to receive government disability and health benefits.

In addition to mapping out the benefits which can include SSDI or Social Security Disability Insurance, Medicare, Medicaid and more, a lawyer for special needs planning can also help families determine which services their child will need throughout its life and what would be the cost.

Special needs trusts are made specifically for the benefit of disabled or mentally ill beneficiaries. These beneficiaries lack the mental capacity to manage their own finances. The trust is created with the specific needs, lifestyle, and future of the beneficiary in mind.

A trust is created when property (real estate, finances, tangible items) is managed by a person for another person’s benefit. The person managing the property is called the “trustee“. The person whose benefit it is for is called the “beneficiary“. The trust lasts as long as it is needed. This usually means the trust will go on until the beneficiary’s death or until the funds are exhausted.

Often times these special needs trusts are used to ensure that the beneficiaries don’t lose government benefits they are receiving. The trustees of special needs trusts can be family members or, if an appropriate and trustworthy family member is unavailable, a third party will be appointed by the court. Choosing the right trustee must be done very carefully, especially for special needs trusts that are used for the benefit of a younger person.

What Clients Are Saying

Mr. Black took an extraordinary amount of time and preparation with my husband and me to prepare our Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney, and Advance Directive. I compared prices for the same services and feel that I was given a very fair fee for the work that was done for us. I would highly recommend Paul Black.


Probate Atlanta

After talking with Paul, I knew exactly what I needed to do. He has been with me the whole way, from getting her diagnosed with dementia to helping with all of the legal paperwork and consolidating the finances (after having to find all of them first!), and getting her moved into an assisted living home where she is getting top-notch care. If you need a responsive and caring lawyer, hire Paul!!


Estate Planning Atlanta

Paul does an excellent job of making a connection with his clients. He becomes invested in meeting the needs of his clients. He is helpful and friendly and has lots of knowledge about trusts, wills, etc. It is easy to get in touch with Paul, and he makes a point of staying in touch with you. Great experience all the way around.


Elder Law Georgia

What are the benefits of special needs trusts?

People with disabilities often qualify for government assistance such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid, vocational rehabilitation, and subsidized housing. Many people make the mistake of leaving assets to their disabled loved ones through a will. This is problematic because acquiring assets, such as a lump sum of money, can disqualify your loved one for these types of government assistance programs. By setting up a special needs trust, instead of solely using a will, you can avoid these issues. Because the trustee has total control over the management of the funds, and the beneficiary does not, government program administrators, like the ones from SSI and Medicaid, ignore the trust assets when considering eligibility.

Special needs trusts can also be used to set up inheritance funds or proceeds from a settlement on behalf of the disabled person. This way, if your loved one is the plaintiff in a successful lawsuit or inherits assets, those funds will go into the trust and will not disqualify him or her from receiving those government benefits. On the flip side, if the beneficiary is ever sued, the funds in his or her special needs trust cannot be touched—they are not subject to any judgment.

What if we are not concerned with government benefits?

The beauty of special needs trusts is that they address the specific needs of the disabled person, whereas, other types of trusts do not. Even if a family is not interested in government benefits, they should still consider a special needs trust to address those specific needs. Furthermore, you never know what the future holds. There is no sense in sacrificing government services that could be beneficial for your disabled loved one in the future.

How can the beneficiary access the special needs trust?

Having the trustee directly give your loved one money could disqualify him or her for government benefits. Instead, the trustee can use the trust assets to purchase necessities for your loved one. The trustee can buy services and products, like personal care attendants, vacations, home furnishings, medical and dental expenses, education, vehicles, physical therapy, and even recreation.

Our family is wealthy. Do we still need to create a Special Needs Trust?

Yes.  You should still establish a Special Needs Trust to protect your disabled loved one from potential creditors. If, for example, your disabled beneficiaries are ever sued in a personal injury action, the assets in the trust would not be available to the plaintiffs. Furthermore, because the funds in a Special Needs Trust are not countable as available assets for purposes of determining government benefit eligibility, more of your money can be used for those supplemental expenditures that will allow your disabled beneficiary to enjoy a higher quality of life. Otherwise, many of your assets will be used to pay for private care benefits that are extremely expensive and can drain even significant sums of money over a period of years.

How I can help:

My practice is focused on estate planning, special needs planning, and elder law. The special needs planning aspect of my law practice is focused on helping Georgia residents who receive SSI & Medicaid. I have helped such individuals defend their benefits in Fair Hearing situations. I also help families who want to be able to spend additional money to improve their disabled child or family member’s quality of life. To learn more, read Special Needs Planning- An Overview.

Awards & Associations

Paul has been named a SuperLawyers “Rising Star” in the area of Estate Planning and as a member of Georgia’s “Legal Elite” by Georgia Trend magazine. He is also a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.

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