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Special Needs Trusts

A special needs trust* (SNT), sometimes referred to as a supplemental needs trust, is a trust that is established to benefit a disabled person or a person who has special needs, while still allowing that person to qualify for and receive government health-care benefits.

*There are costs and expenses associated with the creation of a trust.


Some government programs aimed at assisting the disabled, such as Medicaid and Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI), are needs-based. That means if the disabled individual has access to more than a specified level of resources (generally $2,000), he or she will not be eligible to receive such benefits. In 1993, Congress officially approved the use of SNTs to maximize the use of all available resources, both private and governmental, to provide more fully for the needs of the disabled.

For persons of limited means, government programs may constitute the primary, if not the only, source of funding for their current and future needs. However, government assistance may also be available to families who have resources available to meet their loved one's basic needs. These families may be fortunate enough to be able to use their personal resources to provide for non-basic needs as well. With an SNT, the disabled person is able to first tap into any government benefits to which he or she is entitled, and then can spend personal resources as a secondary source for additional support and comfort.

Types of SNTs

There are three types of SNTs: a self-settled or first-party SNT, a pooled SNT, and a third-party SNT.

Self-settled or first-party SNT

A self-settled or first-party SNT is created for the sole benefit of a disabled person who is under age 65. The trust must be established by the disabled person's parent, grandparent, or guardian, or by the court, but it cannot be created by the disabled person. However, the disabled person can fund the trust. For example, the disabled person could fund the trust with money that has been inherited or received in settlement of a lawsuit, or as a result of a divorce.

As previously stated, in order to qualify for Medicaid or SSI, the person who is enrolling must have a limited amount of income and resources. Generally, Medicaid and SSI will look back 60 months to see if assets have been transferred to someone else in order to qualify for benefits, and if so, a penalty is imposed. The penalty will be that the person who is enrolling won't be able to receive benefits for a certain amount of time. Transferring assets to an SNT, however, does not trigger these look-back provisions.

The other benefit of this SNT, of course, is that assets in the trust will not be countable as resources for eligibility purposes.

One disadvantage, however, is that upon the disabled individual's death, any money or assets remaining in the trust must be used to reimburse the government for Medicaid benefits extended to the individual during his or her lifetime.

Pooled SNT

A pooled SNT is a trust that is managed by a nonprofit organization. Funds are pooled for investment purposes, but separate subaccounts are maintained for each disabled beneficiary. A pooled SNT works in the same way as a self-settled or first-party SNT. However, with a pooled SNT, the disabled individual can create the account for himself or herself.

Furthermore, any funds remaining in the account upon the individual's death can be used to pay back Medicaid, or they can remain in the pooled SNT to help others in the pool, depending on state law.

Third-party SNT

A third-party SNT is a trust created by a disabled person's parent or other third party, but this type of SNT has no payback requirement. The person establishing the trust must not have a duty to support the disabled child, so the child must be age 21 or older, depending on state law. There is no requirement that the disabled person be under the age of 65. However, transfers to a third-party SNT may or may not trigger the Medicaid or SSI penalty period. Again, it depends on state law.


An SNT requires careful drafting and administration to avoid disqualification for government benefits. Be sure to consult a specialist.

In 1993, Congress officially approved the use of SNTs to maximize the use of all available resources, both private and governmental, to provide more fully for the needs of the disabled.

For tax years beginning after December 31, 2014, states can establish and operate ABLE programs, allowing the establishment of ABLE accounts, which are intended to help pay for the qualified disability expenses of eligible individuals. These accounts won't replace SNTs but may be used as part of an overall strategy.

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, legal, or retirement advice or recommendations. The information presented here is not specific to any individual's personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable — we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2020.