Improving the Supplemental or Special Needs Trust

In December 2016, shortly before leaving office, President Obama signed into law the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act, which amended the Social Security Act in a way that is very important to people living with disabilities.

Disabled individuals are often recipients of government benefits that can make the difference in allowing the individual to lead a fuller, more independent life. However, most benefits like these are “needs-based” or “means-tested.” In other words, an award from a lawsuit or a small inheritance could result in the loss of these benefits. Since 1993, the Social Security Act has allowed such funds to be placed into a Supplemental (or Special) Needs Trust (SNT) and then spent on behalf of the individual with disabilities in order to enhance their care by supplementing (but not supplanting) the government benefits.

However, the statute that originally authorized SNTs also required that the trust had to be established by “a parent, grandparent, legal guardian of the individual, or a court,” forcing disabled individuals to rely on people other than themselves, when that might not otherwise be necessary. The two word change that was signed into law in December adds “the individual” to the list of people who are able to create an SNT. The result is that clients, when they are otherwise competent, are now explicitly allowed to create these trusts on their own behalf, without having to involve parents or other family members.

If you are in need of legal advice regarding Supplementary or Special Needs Trusts or another type of trust, Gove Law Office is here to answer your questions. We handle a wide variety of legal needs, including estate planning and administration. For further information, please contact Attorney Michael Gove at or 413-583-5196.