Special Needs Call for Special Trusts
Special Needs Call for Special Trusts

Special Needs Call for Special Trusts

 

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Special Needs Call for Special Trusts

A mother’s journey to secure a future for her disabled son.

For months you planned your trip to Italy: the pasta you would eat, the museums you would tour, the monuments you would see, and the wineries you would visit. Imagine deboarding your plane and being greeted by “Welkom.”

You quickly learn you landed in Holland. And it is there you will vacation.

“Holland?” you say. “What do you mean, Holland? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

After the initial shock, you look around, noticing the unique beauty of Holland: the windmills, the tulips, the Rembrandts. It might not be what you planned for your entire life. But it is an unforgettable and beautiful trip—one not even the best travel agent could have planned.

So goes the story by Emily Perl Kinsley, “Welcome to Holland,” which describes the unexpected experience of having and raising a child with special needs.

Dinah, a co-worker whose eldest son was born with Down syndrome, relates to this story. While raising her son has been unexpected joy, initially the future felt full of unknowns. The reality was she and her husband likely would not always be there to care for him or fund his day-to-day expenses.

Her instincts kicked in, like they do for many parents of newly diagnosed disabled children. First, she ran out and bought whole life insurance. Then Dinah educated herself and found answers to her litany of “what ifs.”

The most pressing unknown was who would take care of their son if she and her husband both passed away. For the first decade, they hoped a set of grandparents would step up. But hope doesn’t float a guarantee. Grandparents age-out of being able to care for children, especially disabled children.

In 2001 with the fall of the Twin Towers, Dinah recalls being keenly aware of her mortality. She says, “It was an emotional time that made me realize we needed to make some firm plans.”

Dinah decided to designate a guardian and a trustee. Her brother and sister-in-law agreed to care for their two younger sons and make sure her eldest was placed in an appropriate group home setting. At the same time, they named a dear friend, a layman, as trustee. A teacher, he was the most capable (and willing) of their friends to attend to the estate. It was comforting to know they were covered. But it was far from a perfect solution. While her eldest would be safe, he no longer would have the loving day-to-day care of family that he was accustomed to.

Changing Times. Changing Needs.

The plan persisted for eight years until her brother passed away, which opened the floodgates of “what-nows?” At that point her two youngest sons were no longer minors and said they would be happy to serve as co-trustees for their brother. But the heart of family members is often larger than the responsibility the duty demands. Laymen don’t always possess the expertise (or the time) to attend to the minute and ongoing details of the trust.

Understanding this, Dinah turned to professional backup. While each situation is unique, Dinah looked for an institution that was both personal yet professional. Of paramount importance were stability and longevity: an institution that was rooted and would remain so for the duration of her child’s life. In addition, the institution also needed to possess a commitment to listening and educating. Having surrounded herself with other families facing similar forever-decisions, Dinah understood the confusion that can overtake a family.

Because Dinah had done her homework, she knew she had options in choosing and designating a corporate trustee, who could also be agent, executor and successor. Dinah also knew she needed a trustee that was flexible, able to make adjustments as needed. Most clients are unaware that this flexibility is available. Large institutions tend to offer a more cookie cutter approach; there are certain limits because their book of clients is so large. They can’t afford to adjust the relationship to the unique needs of their clients. On the flip side, a young and small institution lacks the experience to customize their approach.

In the case of Dinah’s family, she wanted her sons to have assurance that they didn’t have to carry the burden alone. Ultimately, Dinah chose to partner with the Trust Company by assigning us as a successor trustee. We have agreed to step in as successor if her sons feel incapable of carrying out the role.

What’s So Special about a Special Needs Trust?

Caring for a special needs individual is extremely expensive and complex. A special needs trust is unique in that it ensures money is not used from the trust that would unwittingly cut off the beneficiary from government aid. With the help of a professional, special needs trusts can also be set up in a way that allows family members to contribute to the trust.

Some attorneys concentrate their entire practice on drafting documents for families with special needs children. Similarly, the Trust Company understands and educates our clients on the nuances of special needs trusts. Trust Company also provides clients with a deep professional pool from which to draw support: CPAs, wealth managers, as well as legal support. It’s a full service solution, providing families with education, options and even conflict resolution.

While Dinah is secure in her decision today for her son’s tomorrow, she is always attentive to her son’s special needs trust. “It’s very important for us to make sure it is updated with the latest law and in congruence with our life,” says Dinah. “We have a different picture, now that we are closer to retirement, about how we want to pass on assets and provide for our son.” And the Trust Company will be patiently waiting to help if and when Dinah’s family asks. How this picture is brought to life is the primary role of the Trust Company—who is committed to helping every client transition through each season of life, from generation to generation.

Tags:  Corporate Trustee, Disabilities, Disabled Children, Economic Survival, Fiduciary, Financial Decisions, Financial Planning, Financial Security, Guardianship, Life Transition, Successor Trustee, Trust

Note:  The content of this article is for guidance and information purposes only and is not intended to be construed as advice. Information provided is not intended to provide investment, tax, or legal advice.