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Special Needs Estate Planning

Serving Williamsburg, VA and the Surrounding Areas

Special Needs Estate Planning focuses on providing for the special needs of our loved ones with disabilities when we are no longer there to organize and advocate on their behalf. Parents of children with special needs must make careful estate planning choices to coordinate all of the legal, financial, and special care needs of their children – both now and in the future.

Planning for Those with Disabilities or Special Needs

In the past, families would disinherit disabled family members and leave assets to someone else who agreed to "take care" of them. If assets are left to a disabled beneficiary, it could disqualify them from the state or federal programs they are receiving. In 1993, Congress enacted new laws that entitled disabled individuals to derive the same estate planning benefits as non-disabled individuals without affecting their eligibility for state or federal benefits. The law created Supplemental Needs Trusts, which enable you to leave any amount of money to a loved one who has special needs without affecting their eligibility for the state or federal benefits they receive.

The law further provides the trust proceeds must be used to provide luxuries for the disabled individual he or she would not otherwise receive under the state and federal programs. Luxuries can include trips, computers, power wheel chairs, prosthetics, or other comforts not generally provided by the government.

A Supplemental Needs Trusts can be created by an individual with their own funds or be created by someone other than a disabled individual, typically a parent or relative.

There are different rights and restrictions to each of these trusts, but both ensure immediate qualification for federal and state benefits (i.e., Medicaid) and provide luxuries to the disabled beneficiary they would not likely otherwise be able to afford.

When Do I Need Guardianship for My Special Needs Child?

As a parent of a special needs child, you are the child's "natural guardian" and can make all decisions regarding the child. However, your rights as guardian do not allow you to have access or control of your child's assets (i.e., proceeds from a lawsuit or gifts from a family member). In addition, when your child turns 18, you lose your rights as natural guardian to make health care and other life decisions for them. To maintain these rights, you must commence a guardianship proceeding in Surrogate's Court or the State will assume legal authority over your disabled loved one. To avoid losing your authority, you should contact a qualified attorney to begin guardianship proceedings at least six months prior to your child's 18th birthday.

An Overview of Special Needs Estate Planning


There are several types of trusts to assist with these special planning challenges. The most common types are Support Trusts and Special Needs Trusts.

  • Support Trusts:  Support Trusts require the Trustee to make distributions for the child's support in areas like food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and educational services. Beneficiaries of Support Trusts are not eligible to receive financial assistance through Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicaid. If your child will require SSI or Medicaid, you should avoid a Support Trust.

  • Special Needs Trusts:  For many parents, a Special Needs Trust is the most effective way to help their child with a disability. A Special Needs Trust manages resources while also maintaining the child's eligibility for public assistance benefits.

There are two types of Special Needs Trusts:

  • Third-Party Special Needs Trust:  Created using the assets of the parent(s) as part of an estate plan; distributed by a Will or Living Trust.

  • Self-Settled Special Needs Trust: Generally created by a parent, grandparent or legal guardian using the child's assets to fund the Trust (e.g., when the child receives a settlement from a personal injury lawsuit and will require lifelong care). If assets remain in the Trust after the child’s death, a payback to the state is required, but only to the extent the child receives public assistance benefits.

Special Needs Trusts are a critical component of your estate planning if you have loved ones with disabilities for whom you wish to provide after your passing. Generally, Special Needs Trusts are either stand-alone trusts funded with separate assets (like life insurance) or they can be sub-trusts in existing living trusts. 

Special Needs Estate Planning Online Resource Center


Planning for your loved one with special needs requires extensive research to become a well-educated advocate. You will want to keep up-to-date on the latest medical, educational, financial, and legal changes. The Zaremba Center provides assistance to you and your family in addressing your unique concerns. We hope this Special Needs Resource Center provides you with a quick reference to find the additional resources you may need.

  • Social Security Resources:
    Benefits for Children with Special Needs
    Social Security Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool
  • Handbook for Trustees: A special needs trust can be a very powerful aid in managing care for a family member with a disability. It can provide supplemental items like therapy, respite care, dental work, companions, entertainment, education -- all without interfering with the beneficiary's SSI, Medicaid or other government programs. The special needs trust can be a flexible tool. It can also be very difficult and confusing to administer. Download a free copy of the Handbook for Trustees
  • Exceptional Parent online: Online resource for the special needs community, including families, caregivers, physicians, allied health care professionals, and teachers.
  • The Arc: The Arc is a national organization of and for people with mental disabilities and related developmental disabilities and their families. The Arc works to promote and improve support and services for people with mental disabilities and their families and also fosters research into and education about the prevention of these disabilities in infants and young children.
  • National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys: The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys is a non-profit association that assists lawyers, bar organizations and others who work with older clients and their families. The Academy provides information, education, networking and assistance to those who deal with the many specialized issues involved with legal services to the elderly and people with special needs.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness: The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is dedicated to improving the lives of persons living with serious mental illness and their families. There are NAMI organizations in every state and in over 1,100 local communities across the country.
  • Center for Parent Information and Resources: The Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR) serves as a central resource of information and products to the community of Parent Training Information (PTI) Centers and the Community Parent Resource Centers (CPRCs), so that they can focus their efforts on serving families of children with disabilities. Use this interactive map to find the PTI or CPRC that serves your State or territory.
  • Annual Disability Statistics Compendium: This publication, the first Compendium, focuses on state-level statistics published by Federal agencies.

Calculating Your Loved One's Future Financial Needs


These calculators can help you project the future expenses of an individual with special needs.

  • Special Needs Planning

    An Overview of Special Needs Estate Planning


    There are several types of trusts to assist with these special planning challenges. The most common types are Support Trusts and Special Needs Trusts.

    • Support Trusts:  Support Trusts require the Trustee to make distributions for the child's support in areas like food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and educational services. Beneficiaries of Support Trusts are not eligible to receive financial assistance through Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicaid. If your child will require SSI or Medicaid, you should avoid a Support Trust.

    • Special Needs Trusts:  For many parents, a Special Needs Trust is the most effective way to help their child with a disability. A Special Needs Trust manages resources while also maintaining the child's eligibility for public assistance benefits.

    There are two types of Special Needs Trusts:

    • Third-Party Special Needs Trust:  Created using the assets of the parent(s) as part of an estate plan; distributed by a Will or Living Trust.

    • Self-Settled Special Needs Trust: Generally created by a parent, grandparent or legal guardian using the child's assets to fund the Trust (e.g., when the child receives a settlement from a personal injury lawsuit and will require lifelong care). If assets remain in the Trust after the child’s death, a payback to the state is required, but only to the extent the child receives public assistance benefits.

    Special Needs Trusts are a critical component of your estate planning if you have loved ones with disabilities for whom you wish to provide after your passing. Generally, Special Needs Trusts are either stand-alone trusts funded with separate assets (like life insurance) or they can be sub-trusts in existing living trusts. 

  • Resources

    Special Needs Estate Planning Online Resource Center


    Planning for your loved one with special needs requires extensive research to become a well-educated advocate. You will want to keep up-to-date on the latest medical, educational, financial, and legal changes. The Zaremba Center provides assistance to you and your family in addressing your unique concerns. We hope this Special Needs Resource Center provides you with a quick reference to find the additional resources you may need.

    • Social Security Resources:
      Benefits for Children with Special Needs
      Social Security Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool
    • Handbook for Trustees: A special needs trust can be a very powerful aid in managing care for a family member with a disability. It can provide supplemental items like therapy, respite care, dental work, companions, entertainment, education -- all without interfering with the beneficiary's SSI, Medicaid or other government programs. The special needs trust can be a flexible tool. It can also be very difficult and confusing to administer. Download a free copy of the Handbook for Trustees
    • Exceptional Parent online: Online resource for the special needs community, including families, caregivers, physicians, allied health care professionals, and teachers.
    • The Arc: The Arc is a national organization of and for people with mental disabilities and related developmental disabilities and their families. The Arc works to promote and improve support and services for people with mental disabilities and their families and also fosters research into and education about the prevention of these disabilities in infants and young children.
    • National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys: The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys is a non-profit association that assists lawyers, bar organizations and others who work with older clients and their families. The Academy provides information, education, networking and assistance to those who deal with the many specialized issues involved with legal services to the elderly and people with special needs.
    • National Alliance on Mental Illness: The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is dedicated to improving the lives of persons living with serious mental illness and their families. There are NAMI organizations in every state and in over 1,100 local communities across the country.
    • National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities: The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) serves as a central source of information on disabilities in children and youth. The NICHCY Web site has a State Organization - Search by State tool to assist you in finding contact information for disability-related organizations in every state.
    • Annual Disability Statistics Compendium: 2009: This publication, the first Compendium, focuses on state-level statistics published by Federal agencies.
  • Calculators

    Calculating Your Loved One's Future Financial Needs


    These calculators can help you project the future expenses of an individual with special needs.

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