Naperville Lawyer Addresses Why Your Will Should Include a Special Needs Trust Clause

special needs, wills, Illinois estate planning lawyerDid you know that more than 50 million Americans deal with disabilities and special needs? That number represents nearly 20 percent of the population. It also means most families, at some point, will need to consider the best interest of a disabled or special needs person in planning for the future. Such considerations are often made in estate planning, and, in my practice, I have helped many clients prepare their wills to address a family member’s special needs. The challenge for many families lies, however, in being prepared to help a family member who develops special needs or acquires a disability after the drafting of the will and before the will is executed.

Impact of an Inheritance for a Person with Special Needs

Most children and adults with special needs or disabilities qualify for a number of government assistance programs. These programs generally include Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid, vocational programs, housing subsidies, and many other benefits.

Qualification for most such programs is often dependent on an individual’s income, assets, and resources. For many with disabilities or special needs, their financial situation makes them eligible to receive benefits under the various programs. A large inheritance, however, such as one that may have been designated in a will prior to the individual’s diagnosis, can have a significant effect on his or her benefit eligibility.

Hypothetical Case Study

Consider an aging mother who drafted a will in 2010, leaving a third of her estate to each of her three children. When the will was signed, none of her children was known to have a disability or special needs. Her son, in 2013, was diagnosed with a disability, based on which he was able to obtain subsidized housing and SSI. Upon the mother’s death in 2015, her estate was valued at $300,000 and was divided equally among her children. The sudden addition of $100,000 to the disabled son’s assets could cause him to lose his benefits through no action of his own. While such a sum may benefit him in the near future, he may still be forced to find a new place to live and reapply for benefits when the money is exhausted, a process that may take months.

How to Prevent Problems

Fortunately, there is a way to prevent an inheritance from unintentionally affecting a special needs individual’s eligibility for assistance benefits; even better, it is rather simple to do. When preparing a will, an estate planning attorney can help you include a paragraph that allows your executor to determine if any of your intended beneficiaries has qualified for governmental benefits at the time of your death. If any has, your executor may use that beneficiary’s share of the estate to establish a supplemental needs trust, or special needs trust, which allows your beneficiary to receive the appropriate share of your estate in a legal manner that does not affect eligibility for government assistance.

If you would like more information about providing for the supplemental needs of a disabled family member in your will, contact a Naperville estate planning attorney today. At the Gierach Law Firm, our compassionate team is committed to helping you prepare for your family’s future no matter what challenges you may be facing.