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Tom and John Mills' Common Cents: Ways to fund special needs trusts
Common Cents

Tom and John Mills' Common Cents: Ways to fund special needs trusts

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If you have a child with special needs, a trust may be a financial priority.

There are many crucial goods and services that Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income might not pay for, and a special needs trust may be used to address those financial challenges.

Most importantly, a special needs trust may help provide for your disabled child in case you’re no longer able to care for them.

In planning a special needs trust, one of the most pressing questions is: when it comes to funding the trust, what are the options?

There are four basic ways to build up a third-party special needs trust.

One method is simply to pour in personal assets, perhaps from immediate or extended family members. Another possibility is to fund the trust with permanent life insurance.

Proceeds from a settlement or lawsuit can also serve as the core of the trust assets, as can an inheritance.

Families choosing the personal asset route may put a few thousand dollars of cash or other assets into the trust to start, with the intention that the initial investment will be augmented by later contributions from grandparents, siblings, or other relatives.

Those subsequent contributions can be willed to the trust, or the trust may be named as a beneficiary of a retirement or investment account.

When life insurance is used, the trustor makes the trust the beneficiary of the policy. When the trustor dies, the policy’s death benefit is left, income tax-free, to the trust.

A lump-sum settlement or inheritance can be invested while within the trust, inviting the possibility of growth and compounding.

With a worthy trustee in place, there is less likelihood of mismanagement, and funds may come out of the trust to support the beneficiary in a measured way that does not risk threatening government benefits.

The trust may also be funded with tangible, non-cash assets. Examples include real estate, securities, collections of cars or art or antiques, or even a business.

Just remember that the goal of the trust is to provide the trust beneficiary with cash. Those tangible assets will need to be sold or liquidated to meet that objective.

Currently, it costs about $3,500 to design a basic special- needs trust.

Given that initial expense and ongoing administrative costs, most families aim to place at least $100,000 inside these vehicles.

The typical trustee is a bank – or more precisely, a bank’s trust division – and annual administration fees commonly range from 0.5% to 1.5%.

If the trustee is a relative of the child or a close friend of the family, administration may be done for free or at minimal cost.

Care must be taken not only in the setup of a special needs trust, but in the management of it as well. This should be a team effort.

The family members involved should seek out legal and financial professionals who are well versed in this field, and the resulting trust should be a product of close collaboration.

Tom and John Mills are registered investment advisers and certified financial planners. Reach them at 254-0155. MillsWealth.com. Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advice offered through Strategic Wealth Advisors Group (SWAG), a registered investment adviser.

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